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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 40%
Average: 12.73%
Pretty Bad: 1.82%
Total Crap: 3.64%

5 reviews, 25 user ratings

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American Splendor
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by dionwr

"Once upon a time in Cleveland..."
4 stars

At the same time the big studios are happily churning out movies based on the big, best-selling comic books, indie filmmakers are glomming on to alternative comics as a, well, alternative. This movie is one of those, based on the autobiographical comic books of Harvey Pekar.

Harvey Pekar, if you don't know, is a grumpy, mordant, working-class shlub from Cleveland. He worked 37 years as a clerk for the VA Hospital there, and wrote his comic book, "American Splendor," detailing the day-to-day incidents of his life. What you think of the movie will depend almost entirely on what you think of Harvey.

Mostly known for a series of appearances on David Letterman's show in the late '80s, Pekar has now been writing his autobiographical comic book for 25 years. He writes about everything in his life, from his marriage to his work to his arguments with Letterman (he eventually got thrown off the show) to his job to his cancer year.

The weird thing is that Pekar is a great writer. That's a point that isn't stressed often enough. A lot of alternative comics writers have seen Pekar's work and concluded that all you have to do to produce *A*R*T* is to simply chronicle your own life, warts and all. Warts predominantly, in fact. It is not, of course, as easy at that; and the attempts to duplicate what Pekar did in that fashion have resulted in a lot of boring and depressing books by folks who got the warts but missed the point. (Take a look at Joe Matt's cartoon diary, "Peep Show," as one example.)

Somehow, Pekar manages to tell stories about himself that most of us would kill to keep from being spread, and yet manages to make them funny, moving, and interesting. The transmutation that occurs, as he records the evanescent moments of a fairly ordinary life, are magical.

And the subjects he looks at range over every possible topic of life, from the irrational rage we get in the checkout line when someone slows us down, to the offhand conversations at work where someone says something you end up remembering forever.

The filmmakers, Shari Springer Bergman and Robert Pulcini, are documentarians who have done very well in their first fiction film. They found some very creative ways to try to illustrate what Harvey Pekar is like, including using documentary scenes of the real Pekar and his wife, Joyce Brabner, to comment on the film and the actors protraying them, Paul Giamotti and Hope Davis.

The movie is extremely well made and well acted, but it also suffers in that it is based on Harvey's stories, and they're separate short stories. There is some unity the film needs and lacks. It comes across as a crazyquilt of incidents and scenes that never totally stitches together. But they are great incidents and scenes, and I was glad to have seen them.

I found the film amusing and funny, but when I got home I wanted to read the books again.

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originally posted: 08/18/03 06:39:29
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Edinburgh Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Edinburgh Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Seattle Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Brisbane Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Brisbane Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

12/26/09 Loren This movie deserves review by intellectuals, not this guy 5 stars
3/27/07 fools♫gold Giamatti's greatest; a masterpiece because of how stereotypically people rate it! 5 stars
7/23/05 Bad Critic Giamatti is great, just like in Sideways! (See Sideways, it's good, even better!) 5 stars
5/08/05 Valerie kind of boring 2 stars
3/25/05 indrid cold I guess it's supposed to be hip and ironic, but it's just boring. 3 stars
10/23/04 ODH Funny and intelligent movie, Toby chewing food is worth the price of admission!!! 5 stars
9/26/04 VIctor If I want to be bored, I'll film my life for the past six months. 1 stars
8/16/04 Peter James Intelligent and hilarious and Paul Giamatti plays the part perfectly 5 stars
6/13/04 DM A sweet, hilarious film that does justice to an excellent comic book 5 stars
6/11/04 T. Maj Unpatronizing ode to "average joes" 4 stars
5/05/04 A F Just Average. Just Average. 4 stars
4/26/04 Denise Duspiva the most boring movie ever about boring people 1 stars
4/20/04 tatum Great sleeper 5 stars
2/29/04 jimmy two times Giametti should've got an oscar nod. Funny as hell and heart warming. 5 stars
2/25/04 Kris original, intelligent, memorable and ultimately uplifting 5 stars
2/05/04 George Jung Solid, creative film. 4 stars
11/05/03 katsat The most original, creative and interesting movie I've seen in years. 5 stars
10/11/03 john great, just loved it...reality and humor 5 stars
9/24/03 Blubberbot A great movie. This web site used to be good. It kind of sucks now. 5 stars
9/22/03 katsat One of the most original, unque, fresh, and interesting movies I've seen in a long time 5 stars
9/13/03 Metal Bertrand Hilarious and also highly dramatic, with perfect performances and boundless creativity. A+ 5 stars
9/12/03 Butterbean Good and innovative. It feels long. I wanted to slap Pekar. 4 stars
9/05/03 Heather Good acting, no doubt the Ghost World fans will see it 5 stars
9/03/03 King Richard I'm going to look into the books. 5 stars
8/18/03 Ethan Splendid. Giamotti should get an Oscar nomination. 5 stars
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  15-Aug-2003 (R)
  DVD: 03-Feb-2004



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