Written and directed by Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini;
A Fine Line Features release;
Running time: . MPAA rating: R (language).
Harvey Pekar - Paul Giamatti
Joyce Brabner - Hope Davis
Toby Radloff - Judah Friedlander
Robert Crumb - James Urbaniak
Himself - Harvey Pekar
Herself - Joyce Brabner
Review by Jade Sharma
It is widely said that one of the primary functions of cinema is a means of escape. People go to the movies, to get away from the monotony of there daily lifes, to laugh, to cry, to visit another world. At the price of ten dollars a ticket, it is one of the cheapest drugs. And when you get a good hit, it is one of the best highs you can get.
Most Hollywood films, take you on exciting thrilling car chasing gun fighting journeys where beautiful people meet and have sex with other beautiful people. And you get to go along for the ride. But afterwards you walk into the street, and back home to your apartment with your sick cat and your fat wife, and all of a sudden what you thought was an alright life seems pathetic and lame in comparison.
Then there are those movies, that serve to make you feel better about your life. American Beauty showed us that even in the suburbs you can find beauty, like a bag blowing in the wind. Seabiscuit proved once again that anyone, no matter what obstacles are in their way can still attain the American Dream. And now American Splendor is here to say, yea, even a file clerk in Cleveland can make something out of nothing.
American Splendor is about the real life story of Harvey Pekar. The movie starts with Harvey's second wife leaving. He works nights as a file clerk, reads, and collects jazz records. He begans writing comics based on his real life. He asks his friend R.Crumb to illustrate his comic books, and then soon after meets a woman, and quit abruptly marries her. But this is no rags to riches story. This is no success overnight. As Crumb, becomes a celebrity in the world of underground comics and begans making a living off it. Harvey still works as a file clerk in a VA hospital. In fact the most fame Harvey gets is an invitation of the David Lettermen show. The film show actual footage of these interactions, so that you see the actor leave the green room, then you see the real Harvey Pekar with Letttermen. The New Yorker, I think put it best to describe the style of this movie, "It is a documentary and narrative that look at each other, but never touch." Throughout the movie Pekar comments on the action of the narrative, and says things like, "this is the guy who is going to play me in this movie." It is very self-reflective, and self-conscious. Constantly showing us that yea, indeed reality is stranger then fiction. In this way, it reminded me very much of Adaptation, which also kept referring to the film that you are watching.
I think in some ways this innovative style proved successful, and in other ways it seemed sloppy, and intrusive. For instance, there were times where watching the narrative absorbed in the incredible performance of Paul Giamatti as the lack jawed squirrelly eyed Pekar, then all of a sudden, it cuts to the real life Pekar sitting in a white room talking. Although in this way, it may give you a more expansive understanding of Harvey Pekar, it also can be jarring. Getting absorbed in the narrative, and then being pulled out. It was like someone tapping your shoulder saying,"It's not real, it's not real." It detaches you from the narrative.
What I think is it's most redeeming quality is nothing that happens to Harvey is over the top wonderful, everything is shown within the monotonous landscape of real life cleave land, USA. He meets a woman, they get married. She sleeps all day, ever gets a job and critizes him. But they still love each other. He never becomes a billionaire for writing his comics, but it does give him fulfillment and fills the void within him.
The movie ends, with the actor Paul Giamatti fading, replaced with the real Harvey Pekar walking home from dropping off his daughter on the school bus. He says, that it's no happy ending, and that his wife still don't work, and his kid got ADD and is a real handful, and that every day is a major struggle. Although Harvey doesn't win at the end, you still get the feeling that he has had a good life, and in-between the sinks of dirty dishes and the dullness of your life, maybe you do too.