American Splendor is an excitingly original foray into the world of comic book movies.
Though the people and situations onscreen are taken directly from Harvey Pekar’s autobiographical comic of the same name, don’t expect to see any web-slinging superheroics.
Harvey Pekar is a superhero of a different sort.
He uses his keen misanthropic sense of annoyance to battle enemies that audiences can believe in.
He struggles to control a constant flood of manila folders while working as a file clerk in a V.A. hospital.
He wakes up every morning, ready to rage against the most frustrating and constantly recurring villain imaginable: the average American lifestyle.
Harvey Pekar is not Superman. He’s Everyman.
While American Splendor clearly draws a great deal of influence from the world of comics, it would be wrong to view it as simply another attempt at competent adaptation.
The movie itself stands proudly upon its own merits and originality.
Actor Paul Giamatti channels the frustration and exasperation captured by Pekar’s pen and fires it across the screen with such immediacy viewers may actually find themselves grimacing along with him.
Hope Davis and Judah Friedlander are disarmingly offbeat as Pekar’s wife and best friend.
The magnitude of these performances is multiplied when the viewer is treated to footage of the actual individuals being portrayed. One realizes that the actors are not simply impersonations, but rather, incarnations.
While the performances may be the focus of the film, the most exemplary aspect is the way in which directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini seamlessly mix genres.
American Splendor uses everything from staged footage, documentary style interviews, archival video, computer animation, and the real Harvey Pekar’s narration.
This amalgam creates a biographical film that is funny, touching, and far more entertaining than real life usually is.
Robert James Algeo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org