Based on the true childhood experiences of Noah Baumbach and his brother, The Squid and the Whale tells the touching story of two young boys dealing with their parents' divorce in Brooklyn in the 1980s.
Harvey Pekar is file clerk at the local VA hospital. His interactions with his co-workers offer some relief from the monotony, and their discussions encompass everything from music to the decline of American culture to new flavors of jellybeans and life itself. At home, Harvey fills his days with reading, writing and listening to jazz. His apartment is filled with thousands of books and LPs, and he regularly scours Cleveland's thrift stores and garage sales for more, savoring the rare joy of a 25-cent find. It is at one of these junk sales that Harvey meets Robert Crumb, a greeting card artist and music enthusiast. When, years later, Crumb finds international success for his underground comics, the idea that comic books can be a valid art form for adults inspires Harvey to write his own brand of comic book. An admirer of naturalist writers like Theodore Dreiser, Harvey makes his American Splendor a truthful, unsentimental record of his working-class life, a warts-and-all self portrait... Written by
Sujit R. Varma
Joyce Brabner comes by train from Delaware to Cleveland to meet Harvey Pekar in 1984. However, the Genesis engine shown pulling the train did not enter Amtrak's fleet until 1993, and the Amtrak logo on the engine is the post-Acela version (2000). See more »
So, how do you cope with loneliness, Harvey?
Uh, did I say I watch television?
Yeah. You mentioned you watch TV, you listen to your jazz records, you read, you write. You do your stick figures so you could plan for your next comic book.
'Cause I've seen many of your stick figures and that seems to be pretty interesting.
[looks at a jellybean tray]
Mmm, chocolate jelly beans. I'm going to have to try one.
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By no means your average true story, American Splendor blends fact with fiction to create a slightly surreal world. Surreal, because it's so down-to-earth. It's a tale about the life of Harvey Pekar, essentially a relative non-entity. His one saving grace is that he writes comic books, the twist being that they're not about superheroes or anything extraordinary. Rather, they're about gritty reality. Pekar is the star of his own stories, and the life he leads, the people he knows and the everyday things he does are the essence of what his stories entail.
It's a strange story, and to rate it as a movie seems odd, somehow. The guy has led a pretty staple life, and there's nothing in it which elevates him above anyone else. Then again, that's really the point. There are plenty of elements in here which we can all relate to, and consequently, we find ourselves drawn into it. Ultimately it's convincing.
The acting is generally pretty impressive, particularly from Paul Giamatti as Harvey. Given the real Harvey features in the movie (Hence the blending of fact and fiction) we are able to compare them, and it must be said Giamatti gets it spot on. He does a great job of portraying a grump with a heart. By no means is Pekar ever shown as a mercenary worker, but it's pretty obvious he's one of the good guys; hence another strength here. Because he's shown as wysiwyg, you feel like you either know him, or are him. He's the epitome of your average man, and not even just American.
It's a quirky subject for a movie, but it certainly works and entertains. It's so ordinary yet surreal that it demands your attention, and it's a worthwhile journey to go on.
For many people, this movie is a mirror.
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