Written/Directed: Shari Berman and
Staring: Paul Giamatti, Hope Davis, Harvey Pekar,
The Problem With Real Live Everymen
They're Just Not That Interesting
thing I'll say for American Splendor is that it sure did
its job. I am so depressed. I feel completely hopeless about
my own career and future. After seeing American Splendor
I'm pretty much convinced that I'm doomed to a life of poverty
and eccentricity with a dash of lung cancer or mad cow thrown
in for spice, desperately hoping that my boyfriend won't
abandon me for the much greener fields and livelier sex
life proffered by the cavalcade of 20-somethings that flood
into his bar every Tuesday*.
It's easy to see why this movie won the Grand Jury Prize
for dramatic feature at the Sundance Film Festival this
year. It's a movie that embodies so much of independent
film: a bleak take on everyday life with tons of humor and
lots of innovative notions about story telling. These are
also the reasons American Splendor is doomed to flop. It's
too everyday for the everyday Joe to enjoy. Very few ordinary
people want to see the life of an everyman in all its splendor,
especially an everyman who has spent the last couple of
decades regaling us with exactly how much of an everyman
he really is.
The opening of the movie sums it up pretty well. It's a
great opening; the shots are set up like a comic book and
as the camera pans from one comic panel to the next the
picture comes to life. We're introduced to our principal
characters, Harvey Pekar (Giamatti) and then the real Harvey
(Pekar) who is interviewed throughout the movie. We see
a pissed off Harvey wandering through the streets of Cleveland
- much like Scotland, setting a movie in Cleveland automatically
makes it depressing. The real Harvey's voice begins to narrate
his story, and the movie begins. It's a great opening, but
it's so fucking artsy. It's trying so damned hard to be
innovative. It feels like having a conversation with a 23
year old that's just graduated from Tish.
Giamatti who single-handedly saved Duets and is one of
my favorite character actors working today gives a fairly
uninspired performance, leaning on the comic side of his
character too much too often. The movie hits a plateau somewhere
near the middle, a spot of joyful misery where everyone
is depressed an unhappy, but they're all succeeding and
going places at the same time. Once it hits this plateau,
the movie never really goes anywhere else; it just hangs
out there waiting to die.
Again, let me remind you, this movie has put me in a foul,
depressed mood, that's probably where half of this bullshit
I'm writing is coming from.
American Splendor grows on you after a while, the ultra-artsy
tricks stop being so annoying (but for Christ's sake, they
have a scene where Pekar (the fake one not the real one)
is watching the play which acted as inspiration for the
very movie we ourselves are watching. Stop being so fucking
clever, dammit!), some of the humorous moments are truly
amazing, and the characters are quite inspiring.
Three of the pissed off file clerks in all of us
Harvey Pekar (real and fictional) tries really hard to be
an everyman, and he succeeds most of the time.
One Genuine Nerd
My favorite moment is probably when Harvey friend Toby Radloff
is extolling the virtues of the new Jelly Belly beans and
you're sitting in the audience thinking "There's no
way this guy is real. How can they think anyone will believe
this?" And then POW! They truck out the real life guy
and fuck all if he doesn't look sound and act exactly like
Judah Friedlander, the guy who's playing him.
Two and a half hipsters
My main problem with American Splendor is that it could
have been so much better than it was. It's a fine movie,
however, but it will put you in a funky pissed off mood.
*shameless promotion: everyone should head over to Mike's
Big Gay Pajama Party. It's every Tuesday night at the R
Bar, at the corner of Graham and Meeker.