out of 4
All-Reviews.com Movie/Video Review
|*Also starring: ||James Urbaniak, Harvey Pekar, Judah Friedlander, Shari Springer Berman, Larry John Meyers, Cameron Carter, Josh Hutcherson, Joey Krajcar, Chris Ambrose, Vivienne Benesch||
Review by Susan Granger
3 stars out of 4
Awarded the top prize at Sundance this year, this is the dramatized
true-life story of Harvey Pekar, a Veterans Administration Hospital file clerk
in Cleveland who, inspired by the example of his pal Robert Crumb, documented
the mundane, day-to-day details of his life in comic-books.
Paul Giamatti plays the irascible, obsessive-compulsive Pekar, who
realizes "Ordinary life is pretty complex stuff." Hope Davis is Joyce, his
depressive wife, while Madylin Sweeten is their adopted daughter. Pekar's
co-workers are a motley collection of misfits, the funniest being the
slow-speaking, simple-minded Toby (Judah Friedlander), discussing "Revenge of
the Nerds." And, of course, there's Robert Crumb (James Urbaniak), whom Pekar
meets at a garage sale. With Crumb's encouragement and illustrations, Pekar's
career as a cult cartoonist is launched. The narrative veers toward the
dramatic when the dour Pekar copes with cancer for a year.
Directed by the documentarians Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini,
the film utilizes an interesting mixed-media approach. The movie screen morphs
into a comic book panel with images of the real, gravel-voiced Harvey Pekar,
who narrates the film, intercut with his fictional self and his fictionalized
family. There's archival footage from Pekar's pugnacious appearances on "Late
Night With David Letterman" and a staged version of "American Splendor."
Amid the fact and fiction, Paul Giamatti delivers a tour-de-force
performance, finding humor and humanity in one of life's real losers, as does
Hope Davis. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "American Splendor" is a
clever, imaginative 7 - getting points for originality and the soundtrack with
Coltrane's "My Favorite Things" and Chocolate Genius' "Ain't That Peculiar."
Copyright © 2003 Susan Granger
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