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
The circumstances of the Pekars adopting Danielle were fabricated for the film. Among other things, Frank Stack (the artist who helped Joyce put together "Our Cancer Year") is not Danielle's biological father. 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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This is really a great film about Harvey Pekar, the underground comic book writer who created the comic book series "American Splendor". I'm surprised this movie hasn't garnered more critical attention than it has. The movie basically takes you from the end of Harvey's second marriage up to the point of his retirement as a file clerk. Pekar is living a life of quiet desperation - everything in his life is generic. The film lends a dingy quality to Pekar's surroundings that really gives it that "garage sale" look right down to the light fixtures in his apartment. Even the supermarkets and restaurants Harvey frequent make K-mart look classy. Unlike his friends and coworkers though, he is painfully aware of the reality of his life. He has a moment of clarity one day while waiting in line at the grocery store behind a woman who is arguing over why she should pay 1.50 for six glasses that are marked two dollars, when he thinks of a way to strike out at all of this - he decides to document his feelings in a comic. Unfortunately, Harvey can't draw. He comes up with the narrative, but is only able to show stick figures as the actual characters in the drawings. Harvey's big break is that he has become friends with underground comic Robert Crumb before Crumb was famous and the two were just a couple of "ordinary" guys looking for bargains at Cleveland rummage sales. Crumb is impressed with the statement Harvey is trying to make and agrees to do the illustrations, thus the comic "American Splendor" is born.
To me, the best part of this movie is the love story between Harvey and his third wife Joyce. These two people are just weird enough to make it work. What makes it work is that they have staked out their own individual claims to different enough territories in the land of weird that their respective neuroses don't bump into one another too badly, as had happened in Harvey's past marriages. Harvey is a man who has very un-mundane statements to make about his mundane world, but doesn't have any real illusions about changing it. Joyce is a self-diagnosed depressed anemic who has memorized the DSM 3 and is therefore happy to diagnose people with personality disorders and then pretty much takes them as she finds them, in spite of her claims of being a reformer. Because neither one wants to change the other, the relationship works.
The film is really cleverly done, with comic book illustrations showing what Pekar is thinking in various situations along with narration and a couple of interviews with the actual Pekar and his wife interspersed throughout the film giving it a real feeling of authenticity. Paul Giamatti is simply marvelous as the caustic "warts and more" Harvey Pekar. How often do you see an actor share the screen with the person he is playing, as happens in this film, and not even notice a blip in continuity? His performance is that good. Giamatti certainly deserves better than playing supporting roles in films like "Big Fat Liar". Kudos also to James Urbaniak for his small role as artist and illustrator Robert Crumb. For the small amount of time he is on the screen he really captures the essence of the guy.
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