Wednesday, 6 June 2007
American Splendor (2002) dir. Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer-Bergman
Starring: Paul Giamatti and Hope Davis
Guest review by Blair Stewart
Have you ever thought your ordinary hum-drum life was worthy of a comic book series? Perhaps even a filmed adaptation that would be the toast of Sundance and Cannes? Well too bad, because retired hospital clerk Harvey Pekar already beat you to the punch.
A bio-pic that turns bio-pics on its head, “American Splendor” is the story of a brittle, irritable and lovable grouch from Cleveland who used art to turn his 9-to-5 life into tarnished gold. Hitting middle age, twice-divorced and overloaded with a vast knowledge of old Jazz records, Harvey one day approached his friend, underground comic book legend Robert Crumb, (the subject of Terry Zwigoff’s great documentary “Crumb”) to help him out with a little idea. The idea was an idiosyncratic collection of Harvey’s observations and obsessions called “American Splendor” that broke from the mould of superheroes in comics, an off day for Batman when he had to do his laundry. Critical acclaim eventually showed up, a few bills got paid and old Harvey even ended up on Letterman for some very memorable, very crotchety appearances.
Moving forward in time, directors Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer-Bergman have taken his life’s work and created a film that breaks the mould of a biographical drama. The always excellent Paul Giamatti inhabits Pekar’s skin while the real Pekar ambles through it voicing his opinions. Joining him is an underrated Hope Davis as Joyce Babner, Harvey’s strange but devoted wife. Together, Harvey and Joyce face the minor catastrophes of burgeoning love, parenthood, cancer and minor celebrity. And the triumph is the actual film, a wittily observant, exceptional made yarn.
The co-directors’ came from a background in editing and it shows in the dexterity of a brilliant opening sequence as Pekar’s life jumps off the pages, and in one of my favorite moments, as Pekar ruminates on his identity and what a sad, beautiful thing it is to be alive.
“American Splendor” is just that, splendor, and more inspiring than all the “Rocky’s” combined. Because it’s true. Enjoy.
Buy it here: American Splendor
Here’s the brilliant opening sequence: