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2016 | 2015 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2003

2 items from 2003


American Splendor

12 August 2003 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

This review was written for the festival screening of "American Splendor".

PARK CITY -- Every now and then, ambitious filmmakers try to capture the rhythms and splendor of everyday life, the mundane, nitty-gritty routine people experience almost without noticing. Other filmmakers, equally as ambitious, struggle to portray the blue-collar environment, where daily drudgery consumes much of waking life and dark pessimism creeps into the soul. Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini's "American Splendor", which derives from the autobiographical comic books written by Cleveland's most famous file clerk, Harvey Pekar, absolutely nails those elusive ambitions. It's an extraordinary film.

Taking as its theme the Pekarism that "ordinary life is pretty complex stuff," the two documentarians in their feature debut hit an unbelievably rich vein of drama, humor, love, whimsy, psychological turmoil, commonplace travails, genuine trauma and artistic triumph.

Pekar's core following is small, but this HBO movie's take on the cult of Harvey and his impressive comic book series should help it grow immeasurably. Premiering in competition at Sundance, "American Splendor", a clear audience favorite, richly deserves theatrical exposure as well.

The filmmakers employ a mixed-media approach that turns the movie screen into a comic book panel, bringing us images of the real Harvey Pekar, who narrates the film in his raspy voice, intercut with his fictional self, wife and adopted child played with robust energy by, respectively, Paul Giamatti, Hope Davis and Madylin Sweeten. Archival footage of Harvey's unruly appearances on "Late Night With David Letterman," a stage version of "American Splendor" and animation, which picks up the style and substance of his comics -- all seamlessly integrated -- flesh out the story of one of life's losers who gets his revenge but doesn't seem to enjoy it.

Make no doubt, Harvey is a loser. An obsessive-compulsive personality who clutters his home with thousands of vintage LPs and books, he has settled into a safe but dull existence as a VA hospital file clerk in Cleveland. His co-workers are a collection of misfits, each with his own personality disorder, the funniest being Toby (Judah Friedlander), whose slow speech and simple-minded values strike a resonant cord with the audience. But even Toby fails to dissipate the clouds of doom and gloom that hover over Harvey.

Then comes a chance meeting while rummaging for treasures at a garage sale with Robert Crumb (James Urbaniak), who becomes a buddy. When Crumb gains international recognition for his taboo-smashing underground comics, this energizes Harvey to write his own comics. He can't draw, so he fills panels with stick figures and a no-b.s. account of the trials and tribulations of life. Crumb likes them enough to illustrate them.

After the publication of the first "American Splendor" in 1976, other illustrators take over, causing Harvey's appearance to change frequently. None of this brings fame or fortune. However, it does bring a letter from a Delaware comic book store owner, Joyce Brabner (Davis), who after more correspondence and phone conversations comes to Cleveland. Almost immediately, the two marry, determining that for better or worse -- and it often is worse -- they are soul mates.

Even the "Letterman" appearances don't boost sales as the talk show host makes Harvey the butt of jokes about his ordinariness. Real drama comes when Harvey struggles for a year with cancer, an experience he and Joyce turn into a graphic novel.

Moving back and forth from the neorealistic look of "American Splendor" to the more artificial, quasi-documentary segments, the filmmakers playfully express the comic books' point of view about Harvey's existence and his working-class neighborhood. Believing that life is best observed in the details, the film sharply scrutinizes the little things that reveal whole mind-sets and attitudes. Harvey's pessimism, obsessions and frustrations -- the things that may have made him sick and certainly helped him to nearly lose his voice -- enrich his narrative art.

Giamatti gives a great performance, finding humor and humanity in this sad-sack schlemiel. So too with Davis, who makes Joyce into a shy yet shrewd woman who immediately sees her husband as a lifelong reclamation project.

Harvey may have played the buffoon with Letterman, but the guy is really a grunge intellectual. And the untidy ordinariness of his life is hugely compelling when seen from the right angle.

Helping to create that angle are the earthen palette of Terry Stacey's cinematography, the animation, titles and special effects handled by Gary Leib and John Kuramoto, music that reflects Pekar's affection for jazz and R&B and Pulcini's own smooth editing.

AMERICAN SPLENDOR

HBO Films

A Good Machine production

Credits:

Screenwriters-directors: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini

Producer: Ted Hope

Director of photography: Terry Stacey

Production designer: Therese DePrez

Music: Mark Suozzo

Costume designer: Michael Wilkinson

Editor: Robert Pulcini

Cast:

Harvey Pekar: Paul Giamatti

Joyce Brabner: Hope Davis

Toby Radloff: Judah Friedlander

Robert Crumb: James Urbaniak

Running time -- 102 minutes

No MPAA rating »

Permalink | Report a problem


American Splendor

12 August 2003 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

This review was written for the festival screening of "American Splendor".

PARK CITY -- Every now and then, ambitious filmmakers try to capture the rhythms and splendor of everyday life, the mundane, nitty-gritty routine people experience almost without noticing. Other filmmakers, equally as ambitious, struggle to portray the blue-collar environment, where daily drudgery consumes much of waking life and dark pessimism creeps into the soul. Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini's "American Splendor", which derives from the autobiographical comic books written by Cleveland's most famous file clerk, Harvey Pekar, absolutely nails those elusive ambitions. It's an extraordinary film.

Taking as its theme the Pekarism that "ordinary life is pretty complex stuff," the two documentarians in their feature debut hit an unbelievably rich vein of drama, humor, love, whimsy, psychological turmoil, commonplace travails, genuine trauma and artistic triumph.

Pekar's core following is small, but this HBO movie's take on the cult of Harvey and his impressive comic book series should help it grow immeasurably. Premiering in competition at Sundance, "American Splendor", a clear audience favorite, richly deserves theatrical exposure as well.

The filmmakers employ a mixed-media approach that turns the movie screen into a comic book panel, bringing us images of the real Harvey Pekar, who narrates the film in his raspy voice, intercut with his fictional self, wife and adopted child played with robust energy by, respectively, Paul Giamatti, Hope Davis and Madylin Sweeten. Archival footage of Harvey's unruly appearances on "Late Night With David Letterman," a stage version of "American Splendor" and animation, which picks up the style and substance of his comics -- all seamlessly integrated -- flesh out the story of one of life's losers who gets his revenge but doesn't seem to enjoy it.

Make no doubt, Harvey is a loser. An obsessive-compulsive personality who clutters his home with thousands of vintage LPs and books, he has settled into a safe but dull existence as a VA hospital file clerk in Cleveland. His co-workers are a collection of misfits, each with his own personality disorder, the funniest being Toby (Judah Friedlander), whose slow speech and simple-minded values strike a resonant cord with the audience. But even Toby fails to dissipate the clouds of doom and gloom that hover over Harvey.

Then comes a chance meeting while rummaging for treasures at a garage sale with Robert Crumb (James Urbaniak), who becomes a buddy. When Crumb gains international recognition for his taboo-smashing underground comics, this energizes Harvey to write his own comics. He can't draw, so he fills panels with stick figures and a no-b.s. account of the trials and tribulations of life. Crumb likes them enough to illustrate them.

After the publication of the first "American Splendor" in 1976, other illustrators take over, causing Harvey's appearance to change frequently. None of this brings fame or fortune. However, it does bring a letter from a Delaware comic book store owner, Joyce Brabner (Davis), who after more correspondence and phone conversations comes to Cleveland. Almost immediately, the two marry, determining that for better or worse -- and it often is worse -- they are soul mates.

Even the "Letterman" appearances don't boost sales as the talk show host makes Harvey the butt of jokes about his ordinariness. Real drama comes when Harvey struggles for a year with cancer, an experience he and Joyce turn into a graphic novel.

Moving back and forth from the neorealistic look of "American Splendor" to the more artificial, quasi-documentary segments, the filmmakers playfully express the comic books' point of view about Harvey's existence and his working-class neighborhood. Believing that life is best observed in the details, the film sharply scrutinizes the little things that reveal whole mind-sets and attitudes. Harvey's pessimism, obsessions and frustrations -- the things that may have made him sick and certainly helped him to nearly lose his voice -- enrich his narrative art.

Giamatti gives a great performance, finding humor and humanity in this sad-sack schlemiel. So too with Davis, who makes Joyce into a shy yet shrewd woman who immediately sees her husband as a lifelong reclamation project.

Harvey may have played the buffoon with Letterman, but the guy is really a grunge intellectual. And the untidy ordinariness of his life is hugely compelling when seen from the right angle.

Helping to create that angle are the earthen palette of Terry Stacey's cinematography, the animation, titles and special effects handled by Gary Leib and John Kuramoto, music that reflects Pekar's affection for jazz and R&B and Pulcini's own smooth editing.

AMERICAN SPLENDOR

HBO Films

A Good Machine production

Credits:

Screenwriters-directors: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini

Producer: Ted Hope

Director of photography: Terry Stacey

Production designer: Therese DePrez

Music: Mark Suozzo

Costume designer: Michael Wilkinson

Editor: Robert Pulcini

Cast:

Harvey Pekar: Paul Giamatti

Joyce Brabner: Hope Davis

Toby Radloff: Judah Friedlander

Robert Crumb: James Urbaniak

Running time -- 102 minutes

MPAA rating: R

»

Permalink | Report a problem


2016 | 2015 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2003

2 items from 2003


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