Directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini.
Written by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini. Based
on the comic series by Harvey Pekar and Joyce Brabner.
Starring Paul Giamatti and Hope Davis.
Release Year: 2003
Review Date: 8/24/03
It won the coveted Grand Jury Prize at this
year’s Sundance Film Festival...but, what the hell does that mean to
Joe Commoner like you and me?
Well, it means that you will have a good
time watching “American Splendor”, based on the comic books of the
same name created by Harvey Pekar, but cineastes will love it and
for the average filmgoer, you’ll probably come away thinking that it
has some good laughs and some cool touches, but nothing to write
home about. What can’t be debated is the performance by Paul
Giamatti as Pekar; a career journeyman that has always been (at
best) the eighth or ninth-credited performer in a film, it’s always
great to see someone that has worked in the trenches for so long get
the chance to step up and play the lead, and Giamatti is brilliant
throughout “American Splendor” as the lovable loser at the film’s
core. The true-to-life plot follows Pekar from his days growing up
in Cleveland to 1962, when he meets fellow comics lover Bob Crumb
(James Urbaniak) at a garage sale and later in 1975, when Pekar--working
as a file clerk at a VA Hospital--decides to start writing stories
that Crumb illustrates, making him a cult-level working-class hero.
Later in the film, we get to the 80s and Pekar’s third marriage, to
Joyce (Hope Davis), and the ongoing life adventures of Harvey and
his new-found success.
Giamatti does all of the heavy lifting; the
script by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (the twosome also
directed) has some great moments of levity and pacing is strong out
of the box. When Davis enters the film, it just gets better--the
laughs are bigger, the drama is bigger, the banter is bigger. The
film is loaded with a great supporting cast, and Harvey’s co-workers
at the hospital are mostly hilarious; the best turn comes from the
mentally challenged clerk Toby (Judah Friedlander), who has two
great film moments featuring the 80s film “Revenge of the Nerds” and
White Castle hamburgers; anytime a film gives a shout-out to White
Castle, you need to make note of it! I also enjoyed seeing frames
from the actual comics themselves, and commentary on the fact that
it seems like Harvey (as the star of his comic) is drawn a different
way by the many illustrators that worked on “American Splendor”
throughout its history.
The main beef I had with “American Splendor”
is with its constant cutting to Pekar himself; the filmmakers seem
to enjoy having the real-life Pekar insert voice-over and in-movie
interview shots throughout the movie, and I think that this is
something that either you absolutely love or you just don’t like.
It serves to stop the pacing of the movie by getting feedback from
its subjects, and that didn’t work for me. In one scene, it appears
that the filmmakers cut an in-movie scene with Giamatti (as Pekar),
then have him walk through an interview with the real-life Pekar,
while having both in the same shot. Just don’t like it. I did like
the way the film cut to interviews that happened back in the 80s
between Pekar and David Letterman WITHOUT using Giamatti; but then,
the last Letterman interview is done using actors. Baffling.
Otherwise, “American Splendor” is a good
time, and hopefully, Giamatti will be recognized for his great work
Rating: $9.50 Show
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Bellview Rating System:
"Opening Weekend": This is
the highest rating a movie can receive. Reserved for movies that
exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development,
setting...or Salma Hayek. Not necessarily in that order.
"$X.XX Show": This price
changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently,
it is the $9.50 Show. While not technically perfect, this is a
movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.
"Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca",
but you'll have a great time watching. The $9.50 Show won't win any
Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see
"Matinee": An average movie
that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.
Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about
yourself. A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave
the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that
Lakers game last night?"
"Rental": This rating
indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your
friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one." Mostly forgettable, you
couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to
watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the
video store was out of copies of "Ronin." If you can, see this
movie for free. This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a
"Hard Vice": This rating is
the bottom of the barrel. A movie that only six other human beings
have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen. A Shannon
Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every
one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a
movie. Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or
"Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this
movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!
(Warning: strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard