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
I must confess that I was a bit apprehensive in going to see this film. I thought it would be one of those movies that are hyped to the max by the adoring critics, but that it would turn out to be a darling of the reviewers and not the great film everyone was making it to be.
Well, I was thoroughly surprised by the brilliant film making shown by the directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini. They have created a film that works in different levels. First, it is the story of Harvey Pekar told in cinematic terms. Secondly, by presenting the real Harvey Pekar to speak to the camera as he is interviewed, it adds another dimension about the directors' vision in bringing him to us to tell us in his own words, that yes, there is a real person whose life we are getting to know. And thirdly, it works as the weird comic strip that Harvey Pekar might have conceived in his mind.
Harvey Pekar is an example of a strange man who lives and functions within the American society, yet, for all practical purposes, he is in his own little world of collecting books and records and writing his wry observations on what he sees around him. Are we to say we are normal and Harry is not? What if it turns out that Harvey had it all figured out and we had no clue? Let the viewer decide for himself.
The directors great achievement is the brilliant casting. Paul Giamatti is the closest thing anyone would have selected to the real Harvey. Up to now, I have only seen Mr. Giamatti in comedies that didn't have the weight of this film. His take on Harvey is so intense that there are parts when we see the actor and immediately, the real Harvey comes on a different scene. Separating them is almost impossible, as Giamatti's performance leads to Harvey and vice versa. He is totally believable here. He proves that whatever he is doing on screen is what we would expect the real Harvey to do on his own life.
The other incredible casting is the one of Hope Davis as Joyce Brabner. Ms. Davis gets the essence of Joyce with very little effort. We can almost see that the Joyce of Hope Davis will result in the actual Joyce we see in the interviews as herself. The resemblance is uncanny. Ms. Davis is outstanding in the film. We wonder what could have attracted her to Harvey, in the first place. Of course, we realize her passion for comics, but on a physical level, these two, as a couple, are miles and miles apart. Yet, their marriage, unlike Harvey's other two before her, survives and grows.
Ms. Davis scenes with the young Danielle are pure poetry. We can see it in her face that motherhood for her is very important, yet, she cannot have a child of her own with Harvey. She is thoroughly rewarded at the end with the arrival of Danielle who finds in Joyce a kind soul and a mother because her real one could not be bothered with her.
The rest of the cast is just as magnificent. Judah Friedlander as Toby is both funny and pathetic. He is another product of the society he lives in. Also effective, James Urbaniak as the illustrator Bob Crumb who sees in Harvey's stories the potential for great comic books.
This is a triumph for all that were involved in this film.
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