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American Splendor
Written/Directed: Shari Berman and Bob Pulcini
Staring: Paul Giamatti, Hope Davis, Harvey Pekar, James Urbaniak

The Problem With Real Live Everymen…
They're Just Not That Interesting

One 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*.

Free Williamsburg
Film Archive


American Splendor
Don't Tempt Me
Magdalene Sisters
Garage Days
Dirty Pretty Things
Buffalo Soldiers
The Sea Is Watching
Capturing the Friedmans
The Eye
28 Days Later
Cowboy Bebop

Washington Heights
Better Luck Tomorrow
View From the Top

Laurel Canyon

Ordinary Sinner
Dark Blue
The Quiet American


Hell House
Good Housekeeping
Roger Dodger
Spirited Away
Punch-Drunk Love
Bowling For Columbine
Scarlet Diva
Full Frontal
Sex and Lucia
The Powerpuff Girls Movie
Read My Lips (Sur Mes Levres)
The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys
Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Human Nature
Shot in the Heart
Jim Brown: All American
Stolen Summer
Ram Dass: Fierce Grace

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.

The Ratings

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. Be warned.

*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.


--B.C. Edwards
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Free Williamsburg© | 93 Berry Street | Brooklyn, NY 11211
[email protected] | August 2003 | Issue 41
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