With only the plan of moving in together after high school, two unusually devious friends seek direction in life. As a mere gag, they respond to a man's newspaper ad for a date, only to find it will greatly complicate their lives.
Starting from childhood attempts at illustration, the protagonist pursues his true obsession to art school. But as he learns how the art world really works, he finds that he must adapt his vision to the reality that confronts him.
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'm sorry, but I just saw this movie this week on cable, and went out and bought the DVD immediately thereafter. I have since watched it about 15 times, so far. I'm not a comic book fan (at all), and I've never heard of Harvey Pekar (though perhaps vaguely remember his appearances on David Letterman, since seeing this film). Giamatti's performance alone is worth the time in watching this film. I don't think anything Brando, Pacino, or DeNiro has done, to name a few, compares to what Giamatti pulls off in this film. And with that said, perhaps I'm still too new and enthusiastic a viewer to be reviewing his performance. However, PG's every nuance, from his eyebrow twitches and raises, to the shrug of his shoulders, to his speech pattern, to the manner in which he says "OK, OK" early on to his doctor when he's getting his throat checked to his walk...EVERYTHING is just so wonderfully "channeled". He offers such a natural character, and whether or not he is Pekar spot on, I don't know. However, he created his own wonderful big little character. (The scene in which he is talking to Joyce (Hope Davis' character) on the phone, urging her to meet him in Cleveland, is quietly hysterical).
Hope Davis was also great, and it's amazing how much her natural voice and speech pattern resemble that of Pekar's wife. Full of laughs and pathos, in addition to wonderful jazz scores (I haven't checked if there's a soundtrack for the film...I hope that there is one)....this is a must-see film...absolutely brilliant! I don't even know if P. Giamatti was nominated for his performance, but he should have won every award that year, including the Oscar (or at least tie with Sean Penn). I know I have spent all this time commenting on just the two main characters, because they are both so breathtakingly brilliant in their interpretations. Therefore, I'll offer a note about the film overall as well.
First, the film is brilliantly executed. Combining both actors and original screenplay material along with some real-life footage of Harvey Pekar himself was very inventive. And, the use of this approach never bordered on being "cutesy" or clever, as Pekar's perspective and ongoing commentary truly validates the entire film. As I mentioned before, P. Giamatti seems to inhabit Pekar....and provides a very endearing portrait in the process. I have for so many years far preferred quieter, character-driven films, which happen to typically fall within the "indie" category. This film has simply solidified my love for character-driven stories. It is insightful, very droll, and full of pathos. I am now even contemplating subscribing to the comic book "American Splendor", and I am someone who ABSOLUTELY ABHORS all forms of animation. I particularly despise animated films, and only read "Cathy", "Dilbert", and "Doonesbury" from the strips. However, I might just start subscribing to "American Splendor". Because I missed this film when it first came out, I am not certain how large an audience it originally attracted, quite frankly. However, watching it has made me shun, just a little bit more, larger, Hollywood productions, including typical, cookie-cutter romantic comedies (as for another mass-produced Hollywood genre....action/adventure films...I've always hated them and never watch them). I won't turn into a snob and completely shun all Hollywood films, but there certainly is something to be said for quiet, thoughtful pieces that are accompanied by a refreshingly wonderful jazz soundtrack (too many films today appear to have been written around x number of popular songs...it can be quite annoying). As for this film, it's a treasure. Please rent it and ENJOY!
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