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Harvey Pekar (Paul Giamatti) is an obsessive compulsive who works as a file clerk at his local Cleveland hospital. At home, Harvey spends time reading, listening to jazz and writing about everything that interests him. At a garage sale of old records, he meets Robert Crumb (James Urbaniak), a greeting card artist and music enthusiast who is finding success from his underground comic books. Harvey begins to write his own brand of comic, using his profoundly problematic every day life for material, which Crumb begins to illustrate. The first American Splendor comic is published in 1976. When he receives a fan letter from Delaware book store owner Joyce Brabner (Hope Davis), they correspond briefly, decide to meet, and quickly marry. Happy ending, but it's kinda true.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
As ironic as its title, American Splendor is certainly one of the most complete, satisfying and entertaining hybrid of documentary and dramatisation, as well as of live action and 2D animation/comic stills. And also of humour and pathos. And it's all true. Which should come as no surprise, even to those who have never heard of Harvey Pekar, because truth is not only stranger than fiction, it's also often more recognisable.

Harvey Pekar, who is funny pekarliar yet still an everyman, has charted his gloomy and troublesome life through comics he wrote (illustrated by Robert Crumb), without polishing it or cleaning it up; and he's very messy. Not only messy as in messy apartment, but messy as in messy mind.

Two bad marriages behind him (we only get a glimpse of the last moments of the second), Harvey is a sad basket case and this is the glue that holds our interest. The humour is the kind that enables us to accept that a situation is at once serious and funny. Serious and real and painful - but funny because what we recognise is the all too real frailty of our own humanity.

Let's not get too heavy, though, American Splendor doesn't. Yet it does confront a man's many moments of despair. The film is uniquely made; in a way, it's as if the camera were capturing the reflection of a man in a mirror, and then panning round to show us the real man standing there. So it is that Paul Giamatti and the real Harvey Pekar share screen time, are interchangeable, and we hear both their voices at different times.

We see behind the artifice of the documentarian yet - by sheer honesty and verve - the filmmakers never lose us or distance us from the story of this man. He tells us things, they show us things, and we intuitively discover things, while listening to a great soundtrack. It's great stuff.

Published April 8, 2004

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CAST: Paul Giamatti, Harvey Pekar, Shari Springer Berman, Earl Billings, James Urbaniak, Judah Friedlander, Robert Pulcini, Toby Radloff, Hope Davis, Joyce Brabner, Donal Logue, Molly Shannon, James McCaffrey, Madylin Sweeten, Danielle Batone

DIRECTOR: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini

SCRIPT: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini (Harvey Pekar, Joyce Brabner - comic books)

RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes

PRESENTATION: Widescreen 16:9

SPECIAL FEATURES: Road to Splendor Featurette; The Real Harvey Pekar in Cannes; Trailer


DVD RELEASE: March 31, 2004

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