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
It's always hardest to write about what you love and I not only love, but also, to steal a joke from Woody Allen in ANNIE HALL, loaf, luff and lerve this magnificent film. Therefore this will be difficult. Here goes anyway...
No-one can possibly deny that this is innovative in its use of the real Harvey Pekar (and people from his life) frequently intruding into the fictionalised account. But this is more than just a neat trick. It works brilliantly. Instead of distancing the viewer from the narrative makes one feel more involved in the film's world. How dare this work? This kind of arty-farty stuff is usually guaranteed to annoy me - but this is nothing short of revelatory in its Russian doll-like idea of having fiction within fiction within fact...and you don't need to be some kind of high-brow film critic to appreciate it!
All the performances are gob-smackingly good, and there isn't one moment in the film that bores, irritates, patronises or rings a false note. The cast inhabit their roles like they were born to play them. and the determination not to idealise them or their situations, makes my cynical anti-Hollywood production values heart sing for joy.
Do not, I beg you, be put off by the epithet "cult" with which this film has been tarred as if it would appeal only to comic-book fans. No, the appeal here is universal - dealing with Pekar's existential worries and his search for the meaning in his life. It's criminal that American SPLENDOR with all its wit, heart and slickness isn't more highly regarded or more widely known.
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