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American SPlendor

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: American SPlendor

Starring: Paul Giamatti, Hope Davis
Director: Shari Springer Berman
Rated: R
RunTime: 100 Minutes
Release Date: September 2003
Genres: Comedy, Cult

*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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