Film Review- American Splendor (2003)

Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini crafted a very peculiar and pleasant film here. It’s nothing you’d expect going into it. It sort of makes me think about the concept of a different reality. So we’ll touch on that tonight. :)In American Splendor, our guy Harvey Pekar views life usually from a different angle. He’s on the outside looking in. His reality is being a hospital file clerk, an unflattering, unthankful occupation. He grasps the fact that life has its low blows, but we give him a little credit for being optimistic even the slightest bit. Harvey Pekar is portrayed as an honest man. He once said, “I think if you feel rotten most of the time by a certain age, you’re always going to feel lousy — your glass is always going to be half empty. I don’t have it worse than a lot of people, but I pity myself more.”

Paul Giamatti really shined here. A notable role, this was for him. Right down to the voice, he did so well portraying Harvey and all of his body language and charisma. Through his daily anxiety, Harvey found the hidden talent of translating his suffering and frustration into something universal, something different. It was truly a different reality. Harvey searches through yard sales for his next treasure. He finds comic artist Robert Crumb, and eventually finds the motivational spark to translate his perception of reality into comics. He also collects old jazz records and dusty books that pile up in his run-down apartment. If he didn’t, he would have no other outlet for his tiny passions.

Paul Giamatti and Hope Davis
Paul Giamatti and Hope Davis

American Splendor makes us take a step back and look at the big picture of the industry. The reality of Hollywood films is that not everything in the movies are supposed to be happy. In fact, the average life is not so pleasing, seeing this is the case with Harvey. There is a scene that takes place in a shop. We see Harvey, who stumbles upon an old friend from college. They leave the store and are having a chat over a book he’s reading. His hope is that the ending to the book won’t be just some naturalist novel, kind of describing a typical crazy Hollywood film. He doesn’t quite see the world as it’s portrayed to be. Harvey sets out to leave a different legacy. He hopes to inspire writers. During his multiple appearances on David Letterman’s show, Harvey quickly realizes why he’s asked to return to the television show so many times. Letterman and his audience seem to use Harvey’s pessimism as a source of comedy to bounce off of. Harvey says, “I’m no showbiz phony. I’m tellin’ the truth!” Clearly agreeing to interviews for the money, Harvey doesn’t seem to mind until he decides to bite back one night. He calls Letterman a “shill” for the General Electric Corporation, owners of NBC at the time who were in the middle of a writer strike.

Hope Davis does a very splendid job as Joyce Brabner. She is her own, free soul. While backstage at one of Harvey’s interviews, Joyce begins to look for the news channel, with hopes of catching onto a big story overseas in Iran. Joyce is a willing person who is always there for Harvey. Although their relationship may seem dysfunctional at times, they know they can only overcome things with the help of one another. She is a character with a big drive to do her own thing and shine. Joyce wants to do something that matters to her. Harvey accepts living in Cleveland, while Joyce really just wants to dash off to aid other countries. She copes with her reality by being persistent with her choices in life, yet still vows to always be there for Harvey. In the end, everything comes together to make a glorious and creative life story.


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