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REVIEW: 'American Splendor': No Phony Crap

Harvey Pekar as Harvey Pekar

Paul Giamatti as Harvey Pekar

Giamatti and Davis

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 agreat adventure, cheats death, saves a little girl, finds true love and liveshappily ever after.

Well, you won't find any of that "phony Hollywood crap" in"American Splendor," Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini's filmedadaptation of Harvey Pekar's comic books.

If you haven't read the comics, "American Splendor" basicallyrecounts Pekar's cranky, cynical observations about every day life. Tired ofcomics 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 heactually lives in, a world populated by common, work-a-day people, nerds andmisfits 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 areal-life 2002 party celebrating his retirement from his day job as a file clerkat a V.A. hospital. Throughout, we see the ever-grousing Pekar interpreted in asmany different ways as the artists who drew him in the comic.

Paul Giamatti ("Man on the Moon") plays Pekar in the dramatizedscenes, 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 comicsboth as panels drawn by Robert Crumb and others, and as animated characters inthe movie. (We even get Donal Logue ("Grounded for Life") playing theman in a stage version of the comics).

If all this makes you think Berman and Pulcini are playing with form, you arecorrect. "American Splendor" deftly maneuvers between comic panels,acted scenes and behind-the scenes interviews. Yet rather than coming off asshowy or distracting, all the experimental techniques actually serve theexperience of getting to know Harvey in a way that a conventional film or even adocumentary 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. Howdifficult is that when the real-life counterparts are right there on the screenwith them?

So, does Harvey do all that stuff I talked about earlier and live happilyever after? Well, I can't say if he's living happily ever after, but in thecourse of the movie he does, in his own grouchy way, cheat death, save a littlegirl and find true love.

Does he go on a great adventure? The long, lonely and sometimes frighteningtimes Pekar spent in the overcast, grimy city of Cleveland may not seem like agreat adventure, but it plays well as a hilarious, compelling and thoroughlyenjoyable film.

Is Harvey a hero? Harvey Pekar is someone who has worked hard, kept hisintegrity and made something unique of his life. He's an every day hero and ifsomeone 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 Sweeps." You could win an autographed poster and lots of other cool prizes!

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