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American Splendor
     

American Splendor

4.0 3
Director: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini, Paul Giamatti, Hope Davis

Cast: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini, Paul Giamatti, Hope Davis

 

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The documentary directing team of Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman makes their narrative feature debut with the biographical comedy drama American Splendor. Harvey Pekar (Paul Giamatti) is a comic book writer inspired by the work of his friend Robert Crumb (James Urbaniak). Pekar writes his comics about the sad monotony of everyday life, based on his

Overview

The documentary directing team of Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman makes their narrative feature debut with the biographical comedy drama American Splendor. Harvey Pekar (Paul Giamatti) is a comic book writer inspired by the work of his friend Robert Crumb (James Urbaniak). Pekar writes his comics about the sad monotony of everyday life, based on his own life in Cleveland, OH, working as a file clerk at a veteran's hospital and spending his time reading books and listening to jazz. He meets up with Joyce Brabner (Hope Davis) and they enjoy a depressive relationship together. The filmmakers employ a combination of live-action film, video, and animation, including narration and commentary from the real-life Harvey Pekar. The screenplay was based on Pekar's comic book series American Splendor, which he has been writing since 1976 on Dark Horse Comics, and the 1994 book-length comic Our Cancer Year, written by Pekar and Brabner. American Splendor won the Grand Jury Prize in the Dramatic Competition at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival.

Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - Ed Hulse
For sheer audacity, it's hard to beat American Splendor, which mixes reality and make-believe in a dazzling tour de force. Based on the highly regarded graphic novel of the same name, Splendor follows the everyday exploits of Harvey Pekar (Paul Giamatti), a self-described "schlub" who works as a file clerk in a veterans' hospital by day and collects books and records the rest of the time. Inspired to write a comic-book account of his daily life -- putting all his gripes, insecurities, and paranoia into print -- Pekar becomes a cult celebrity and attracts the attentions of Joyce Brabner (Hope Davis), a comic-shop manager who's a bit of a schlub herself. Husband-and-wife directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, documentary makers for whom this is a fiction debut, could have adapted Pekar's story in a straightforward manner, but they spice things up by including footage of the real Pekar and Brabner, blurring the line between fiction and reality. Moreover, some sequences unfold in comic-book style, moving in and out of the world created in the live-action footage. Pekar's existential angst translates to film surprisingly well, thanks in no small part to Giamatti, usually a dependable supporting player, who here proves himself eminently capable of carrying a picture. Davis, a talented performer with an impressive track record of playing vulnerable, emotionally damaged characters, is equally impressive as Brabner; seeing the real Joyce on screen will demonstrate just how well Davis captured her. For all the inspired kvetching -- which is what made Pekar an underground sensation and earned him invites to David Letterman's TV show -- American Splendor has a puckish, buoyant tone that makes it irresistible. It's one of the most imaginative movies you're likely to see in a very long time.
All Movie Guide - Josh Ralske
The best thing about the film adaptation of American Splendor is that it captures Harvey Pekar's unique voice, and the comic book's bristly tone. This is no small feat. Directors/screenwriters Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini cannily integrate documentary footage of Pekar, his wife, Joyce Brabner, and others commenting on the film and the real events that the film depicts. A black-and-white animated version of Pekar also appears frequently. At one point, Pekar (Paul Giamatti) leaves Brabner (Hope Davis) in the green room to appear on David Letterman's show. Davis watches the monitor as actual footage of Pekar's appearance is seen on the monitor. The filmmakers sacrifice some narrative momentum with their technique, but it's well worth it because American Splendor ends up capturing Pekar in all his uncompromisingly grizzled glory in a way that a straightforward biopic wouldn't have. Pekar has always tried to avoid pandering to his audience, and to the filmmakers' credit, they don't try to soft-pedal him; even when dealing with a character's terminal illness, they avoid any kind of sentimentality. Giamatti delivers a wonderfully cranky performance in the title role, while Davis is dependably superb as the hypochondriac and insanely impulsive Brabner. James Urbaniak brings depth to what could have been a cartoonish role as comic book artist Robert Crumb, while Judah Friedlander is surprisingly spot-on as the genuinely cartoonish Toby Radloff, Pekar's longtime friend and co-worker. Pekar's brittle relationships with Brabner and Radloff set the tone for the film. These aren't lovable goofballs, so much as full-bodied characters of whom one's opinion changes, depending on how they're behaving in a particular scene. The filmmakers allow the viewer to make up his or her own mind about these complex people, and that is the best service they could have paid to Pekar's work.
Entertainment Weekly - Lisa Schwarzbaum
American Splendor presents Pekar as drawn on the page, Pekar as brilliantly interpreted by Paul Giamatti, and the actual Pekar, in the double role of narrator and interview subject -- sometimes all at once. The magic act is thrilling, and truly surprising.
Chicago Sun-Times - Roger Ebert

This film is delightful in the way it finds its own way to tell its own story. There was no model to draw on, but Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, who wrote and directed it, have made a great film by trusting to Pekar's artistic credo.
Boston Globe - Ty Burr
The movie is pricelessly comic -- the Harvey/Joyce scenes catalog the couple's neuroses with glee -- but it just as often reaches for something richer.
The New Yorker - Anthony Lane
Behind the playfulness, it cleaves to an oddly old-fashioned belief that a life, even a life as mangy as Mr. Pekar’s, gains in depth and darkness when it is crosshatched with the imaginary. The nerd needs no revenge.

Product Details

Release Date:
02/03/2004
UPC:
0026359203138
Original Release:
2003
Rating:
R
Source:
Hbo Home Video

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Paul Giamatti Harvey Pekar
Hope Davis Joyce Brabner
Harvey Pekar Real Harvey
Shari Springer Berman Interviewer
James Urbaniak Robert Crumb
Judah Friedlander Toby Radloff
Earl Billings Mr. Boats
Joyce Brabner Real Joyce
Madylin Sweeten Danielle
James McCaffrey Fred
Danielle Batone Real Danielle
Maggie Moore Alice Quinn

Technical Credits
Shari Springer Berman Director,Screenwriter
Robert Pulcini Director,Editor,Screenwriter
Linda Cohen Musical Direction/Supervision
Therese DePrez Production Designer
Robert Desue Set Decoration/Design
Ann Goulder Casting
Ted Hope Producer
Julia King Associate Producer
Whit Norris Sound/Sound Designer
Chip Signore Asst. Director
Terry Stacey Cinematographer
Mark Suozzo Score Composer
Twinkle Animator
Michael Wilkinson Costumes/Costume Designer

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American Splendor 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
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