American Splendor

"Excellent"

American Splendor Review


Comic book heroes like Spider-Man and The Hulk get all the press. Hey, what about the little guy?

Harvey Pekar is the ultimate little guy -- not just in the comics world, where his American Splendor has been an underground phenomenon for decades, but in real life, as he has held down a steady gig as a file clerk in a Cleveland VA hospital since the beginning of the known universe.

Pekar's life story -- his daily misery and misanthropy resulting from standing in long lines, listening to idiots on the bus, and impatiently waiting for his own death -- has been chronicled in the autobiographical comics, and now those comics (plus outtakes from the rest of Pekar's life) have been turned into an incredibly clever and surprising movie of the same name.

In Splendor, we track Pekar through the bulk of his life, but earnestly we follow his life as a young adult through his retirement. Terminally pissed, he scowls his way through the work day, saving money by patching up his coat with glue and dreaming of success as a comic book creator. He's got straight-outta-real-life stories galore, but the problem is he can't draw a straight line.

A friendship with famed comic artist Robert Crumb results in the creation of American Splendor #1, and the comic slowly grows a fan base in the 1970s underground. His tales of hypochondria and the horrors of daily life don't exactly resonate with the mass media consumer, so Pekar never earns enough money to quit his VA job or move out of his apartment. But he does manage to attract an equally odd wife (played admirably by Hope Davis) and become a minor celebrity, appearing regularly on Late Night with David Letterman.

Pekar would probably be the first to agree that his story isn't so thrilling, but the way it is told to us is. Part documentary, part biography, part animated fantasy, the film weaves among genres smoothly and curiously, always baiting us with a quirky tidbit to discover in the next scene. Paul Giamatti is a treasure as Pekar, nailing his perpetual sneer and hunch (though unfortunately it's impossible to replicate the real Pekar's broken voice). You can compare for yourself of course when Pekar appears in one of the film's many candid interview sequences -- shot during the taping of Pekar's reading of the film's voice-over on weird, dreamlike sets.

Even more successful than Giamatti are Davis as wife Joyce and the inimitable Judah Friedlander as Toby Radloff, a Pekar co-worker and self-professed nerd whose monologues on jellybeans and Revenge of the Nerds rank as some of this year's cinematic highlights. Friedlander's portrayal is so over the top that just when you're ready to dismiss him as a total caricature, poof, out pops the real Toby Radloff in one of the behind-the-scenes sequences, proving just how exact Friedlander's performance is. The man deserves an Oscar.

The rest of the film hinges on its self-referential, circuitous storytelling method, which is fascinating and groundbreaking, but which ultimately masks the fact that Pekar's story is as simple and plain as he has always proclaimed. Even though much is made of his fall from grace on Letterman and his bout with lymphoma, these are but a few short vignettes in a life that makes you wonder why it was turned into a movie... except that it is easily mocked by the audience. The film will be far more rewarding to viewers that have some familiarity with Pekar and his work, but otherwise Splendor's message is simplistic to the point of nearly becoming trite: If Harvey can make it, the film tells us, then anybody can. If you're looking to feel good about your own miserable life, well, this is the movie to see.

Official noids.



American Splendor

Facts and Figures

Run time: 101 mins

In Theaters: Friday 12th September 2003

Box Office USA: $6.0M

Box Office Worldwide: $6M

Distributed by: Fine Line Features

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Fresh: 170 Rotten: 11

IMDB: 7.5 / 10

Cast & Crew

Producer:

Starring: Chris Ambrose as Superman, Joey Krajcar as Batman, as Robin, Cameron Carter as Green Lantern, Daniel Tay as Young Harvey, Mary Faktor as Housewife, as Harvey Pekar, as Real Harvey, as Robert Crumb, as Toby Radloff, as Stage Actor Harvey, as Stage Actor Joyce

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

Contactmusic 2017 Exclusive

New Movies

Life Movie Review

Life Movie Review

Like a mash-up of Alien and Gravity, this ripping sci-fi horror movie is very effective...

The Lost City of Z Movie Review

The Lost City of Z Movie Review

Based on a true story, it's the historical aspect of these events that holds the...

Chips Movie Review

Chips Movie Review

It's clear from the very start that this movie has little to do with the...

Beauty And The Beast Movie Review

Beauty And The Beast Movie Review

This remake of Disney's 1991 classic is remarkably faithful, using present-day digital animation effects to...

The Salesman Movie Review

The Salesman Movie Review

Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi won his second Oscar with this astute drama which, like 2011's...

Get Out Movie Review

Get Out Movie Review

Leave it to a comedian to make one of the scariest movies in recent memory....

Personal Shopper Movie Review

Personal Shopper Movie Review

After winning a series of major awards for her role in Olivier Assayas' Clouds of...

Advertisement
Certain Women Movie Review

Certain Women Movie Review

In films like Wendy and Lucy and Meek's Cutoff, writer-director Kelly Reichardt has told sharply...

Kong: Skull Island Movie Review

Kong: Skull Island Movie Review

After the success of 2014's Godzilla reboot, the Warner Bros monsters get their own franchise,...

Viceroy's House Movie Review

Viceroy's House Movie Review

Filmmaker Gurinder Chada (Bend It Like Beckham) draws on her own family history to explore...

Trespass Against Us Movie Review

Trespass Against Us Movie Review

With an extra dose of attitude and energy, this Irish comedy-drama hits us like a...

Logan Movie Review

Logan Movie Review

Hugh Jackman returns to his signature role one last time (so he says), reuniting with...

Patriots Day Movie Review

Patriots Day Movie Review

The third time's a charm for Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg, who previously teamed...

A Cure for Wellness Movie Review

A Cure for Wellness Movie Review

It's no surprise that this creep-out horror thriller is packed with whizzy visual invention, since...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.