A film by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini

American Splendor is a rather peculiar movie, though a fairly good one. American Splendor is about the life and times of Harvey Pekar. Harvey is not the sort of man you would ordinarily expect to have a movie made about, Harvey is also the author of the comic book of the same title. American Splendor , the comic, is not your usual kind of comic. There are no superheroes and nobody wears a spandex bodysuit. The comic is about real life: specifically the real life of Harvey Pekar himself. This movie is an adaptation of the comic, so it is a film about a comic about a real man. With that in mind, American Splendor mixes several styles of film narrative. We have the basic story of Harvey Pekar s life, but the story is actually narrated by the real Harvey Pekar who acknowledges when Harvey (Paul Giamatti) appears on screen That s me. Then he goes on to say that it is only an actor playing him and that they don t really look alike. Since this is a movie based on a comic, we also get pauses where the film switches to a comic book frame (or moves from the frame into a scene), which works rather well in this film (in comparison to The Hulk , which did not work quite as well as it did here). There is also a documentary style to the film as it moves from a movie scene to the real Harvey and the real Joyce being interviewed. While these styles, perhaps, should not work in the film, they do and rather well at that.

The film truly begins (there is a scene before this with a young Harvey) with Harvey getting dumped by his second wife. This sends him into a funk, but he meets a man named Crumb who is a talented artist and eventually becomes successful and famous. When Crumb visits Harvey a couple of years later Harvey has the idea for writing a new style of comic book, one about the ordinary, day to day stuff (this was revolutionary at the time) and Crumb decides to do the artwork for the book. It is called American Splendor and despite being a critical success and an underground favorite it does not permit Harvey to leave his job as a file clerk.

What the comic does give Harvey, other than some limited acclaim, is that it is the impetuous for Joyce (Hope Davis) to write Harvey and eventually meet and marry him. They have a rather strange relationship, and though it may not be based on love, it seems to work (both in the film s story as well as in the documentary portions). We trace Harvey s life through his co-workers (an interesting cast of characters), through his appearances on the David Letterman show (where we see the actual footage, but when Harvey steps off the stage it switches over to the film Harvey again), through his year of cancer and up through the present.

This was a surprisingly interesting film, and it worked more successfully than I expected. It will not make my list of top ten films, but it was good and had some excellent performances (Giamatti should have been recognized by Oscar for this one). I ll recommend this one with the Good stuff rating. It s not great, but it is good.