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American Splendor (2003)

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An original mix of fiction and reality illuminates the life of comic book hero everyman Harvey Pekar.


Harvey Pekar (comic book series American Splendor), Joyce Brabner (comic book series Our Cancer Year) | 2 more credits »
Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 31 wins & 49 nominations. See more awards »





Cast overview, first billed only:
Chris Ambrose Chris Ambrose ... Superman
Joey Krajcar Joey Krajcar ... Batman
Josh Hutcherson ... Robin
Cameron Carter Cameron Carter ... Green Lantern
Daniel Tay ... Young Harvey
Mary Faktor ... Housewife
Paul Giamatti ... Harvey Pekar
Harvey Pekar ... Real Harvey
Shari Springer Berman ... Interviewer (voice)
Larry John Meyers Larry John Meyers ... Throat Doctor (as Larry John Myers)
Vivienne Benesch Vivienne Benesch ... Lana
Barbara Brown ... Nurse
Earl Billings ... Mr. Boats
Danny Hoch ... Marty
James Urbaniak ... Robert Crumb


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

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Ordinary life is pretty complex stuff.

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for language | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »






Release Date:

12 September 2003 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Esplendor americano See more »

Filming Locations:

Cleveland, Ohio, USA See more »


Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$159,705, 17 August 2003, Limited Release

Gross USA:

$6,003,587, 30 November 2003
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Dolby Digital



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


When Harvey Pekar first guest stars on Late Night with David Letterman (1982), Joyce is in the waiting room with a man with an alligator (Terrence Sullivan). This was originally intended to be a cameo by John Waters. See more »


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 »


Real Toby: So, how do you cope with loneliness, Harvey?
Real Harvey: Uh, did I say I watch television?
Real Toby: 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.
Real Harvey: Yeah.
Real Toby: 'Cause I've seen many of your stick figures and that seems to be pretty interesting.
Real Harvey: Yeah.
Real Toby: [looks at a jellybean tray] Mmm, chocolate jelly beans. I'm going to have to try one.
See more »


Referenced in The Oh in Ohio (2006) See more »


Hula Medley
Performed by R. Crumb and His Cheap Suit Serenaders
Courtesy of Shanachie Entertainment Corp.
See more »

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User Reviews

An offbeat movie about an offbeat kind of man
31 January 2010 | by AlsExGalSee all my reviews

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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