Harvey Pekar as Harvey Pekar
Paul Giamatti as Harvey Pekar
Photo Credit: John Clifford
Joyce Brabner and Harvey Pekar
Photo Credit: John Clifford
Here’s a movie for you: A inspiring tale about a real hero who goes on a
great adventure, cheats death, saves a little girl, finds true love and lives
happily ever after.
Well, you won’t find any of that “phony Hollywood crap” in
“American Splendor,” Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini’s filmed
adaptation of Harvey Pekar’s comic books.
If you haven’t read the comics, “American Splendor” basically
recounts Pekar’s cranky, cynical observations about every day life. Tired of
comics that featured superheroes and slick characters he couldn’t relate to,
Pekar set out to tell it like it is and show a world that resembled the world he
actually lives in, a world populated by common, work-a-day people, nerds and
misfits who don’t have a shred of glamour in their lives. No phony crap.
The movie, like the comics on which it’s based, tells Pekar’s life story,
starting from when he was you grumpy young boy in Cleveland and leading up to a
real-life 2002 party celebrating his retirement from his day job as a file clerk
at a V.A. hospital. Throughout, we see the ever-grousing Pekar interpreted in as
many different ways as the artists who drew him in the comic.
Paul Giamatti (“Man on the Moon”) plays Pekar in the dramatized
scenes, which make up the bulk of the movie. But Pekar himself is there,
narrating and often appearing on camera himself. We see the Pekar of the comics
both as panels drawn by Robert Crumb and others, and as animated characters in
the movie. (We even get Donal Logue (“Grounded for Life”) playing the
man in a stage version of the comics).
If all this makes you think Berman and Pulcini are playing with form, you are
correct. “American Splendor” deftly maneuvers between comic panels,
acted scenes and behind-the scenes interviews. Yet rather than coming off as
showy or distracting, all the experimental techniques actually serve the
experience of getting to know Harvey in a way that a conventional film or even a
documentary would not.
Hats off to Giamatti and Hope Davis, who plays Pekar’s wife, Joyce Brabner.
Both actors deliver performances that are winning and feel true-to-life. How
difficult is that when the real-life counterparts are right there on the screen
So, does Harvey do all that stuff I talked about earlier and live happily
ever after? Well, I can’t say if he’s living happily ever after, but in the
course of the movie he does, in his own grouchy way, cheat death, save a little
girl and find true love.
Does he go on a great adventure? The long, lonely and sometimes frightening
times Pekar spent in the overcast, grimy city of Cleveland may not seem like a
great adventure, but it plays well as a hilarious, compelling and thoroughly
Is Harvey a hero? Harvey Pekar is someone who has worked hard, kept his
integrity and made something unique of his life. He’s an every day hero and if
someone like Harvey can be a hero, well, maybe the rest of us are the heroes of our own stories. Now isn’t that inspiring?
Don’t forget to enter the “American Splendor Comic Relief