American Splendor

This film rounds out the Paul Giamatti festival playing at our house the past month. I'm not sure where I was when this came out in 2003, but it's an unusual masterpiece, an indie film for our times.  I haven't seen "Crumb" and saw only bits and pieces of "Ghost World", but they're next on the agenda.

This film has great structure.  It's open, reflexive, elliptical—and doesn't pretend to be anything but a cinematic rendition of the subject comic book.  It works better than many other live action/animated combos I've seen, but I could be biased.  I was already sympathetic to Harvey Pekar (the real author of the comic book and subject of the both film and comic book), and was instantly won over by the terrific jazz soundtrack.  What I didn't expect was that he had cancer and the inclusion of a comic novel that he and his wife collaborated on called, Our Cancer Year.  Harvey's wife Joyce basically bullied him into doing the comic novel as a way to detail his treatment ordeal and to foster his recovery by being able to distance himself through writing.


Our Cancer Year

Joyce Brabner

For obvious reasons, this brought tears to my eyes.  Not enough was the loneliness, inadequacy, hopelessness of the character, and his act of venting through "American Splendor".  He had found possibly lasting love through this third marriage, and now he had cancer.  I look forward to reading the comic novel as the cancer portion occupied about 10 minutes of the film, max.  The movie does end with a happy Hollywood ending, and Pekar's life apparently went that direction as well, as the film won the Jury Prize at Sundance and the International Critics Prize at Cannes.  Pekar remains the hero of the underdog because he never quite believes the fame and succes and doesn't seem to be corrupted it.  "I'm just doin' it for the extra bread, man."

Paul Giamatti is uncanny in the role as Harvey Pekar, and critics suggested Giamatti should have been nominated for best actor Oscar that year.  He truly became Harvey Pekar.

I don't think this film is for everyone.  It moves slowly and is neither gripping drama nor outright comedy.  It's dark, sardonic humor and irony, and it feels just like so many days in my life, and I would imagine other people's lives as well.

Again, great soundtrack. 

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2 thoughts on “American Splendor

  1. this is a great movie. it captures that odd genius sort of personality and you are at once repelled by and endeared to the giamatti character.
    it's one of the rare movies where the voice over doesn't annoy me…

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