American Splendor (2003)

On this week’s Top 10 Show with John Rocha and Matt Knost, they did a top ten list of Paul Giamatti movies and American Splendor was near the top of both of their lists. I had never heard of it before, but it was telling the story of a part time underground comic book writer named Harvey Pekar. Sounding like a film that interested me, I added it to the list for the DailyView: EYG 2021 Spring/Summer Unseen Classics Binge.

The film was unlike anything I had seen before. It combined both Paul Giamatti and other actors in the cast with the real life people they were portraying. The real Harvey Pekar was doing narration/voice over for the film and it was being told using graphics and style from comic books. Everything really blended together well to advance the narrative of Pekar’s colorful and unconventional life.

Pekar was a medical file clerk at a VA hospital. He was certainly an oddball character. When he met comic icon R. Crumb (James Urbaniak), Pekar decided that his own life could be an underground comic. He showed some of his story ideas to Crumb who wanted to illustrate them. The comic American Splendor was born. It told the story of Pekar’s life without the rosy colored glasses. It was a true look at the unsympathetic nature of life.

The film also illustrated the condensed courtship of Pekar’s soon to be wife Joyce (Hope Davis). Joyce and Harvey were married within a week of their first date and they really seemed to be each other’s soulmate, but not in the sloppy sentimental manner as many films show. Their relationship is one of the strongest aspects of the second half of the movie.

Paul Giamatti brought the perfect amount of remorse and melancholy to the role, which could not have been easy with the real Harvey Pekar right there the whole time. Giamatti gave one of his best performances here, layering the negativity with real moments, albeit fleeting, of joy. There is a realness to American Splendor that plays opposite the fantastical aspects of the comic book style.

The scenes of Pekar appearing on the David Letterman show were quite funny and revealed even more about Pekar and his desire not to be taken advantage of. Real footage from Pekar on the Letterman show was used and mixed brilliantly with the story they were telling.

American Splendor was a fantastically creative and clever biopic that was fully engaging and entertaining to watch.

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