Real Harvey: OK. This guy here, he’s our man, all grown up and going nowhere. Although he’s a pretty scholarly cat, he never got much of a formal education. For the most part, he’s lived in shit neighborhoods, held shit jobs, and he’s now knee-deep into a disastrous second marriage. So, if you’re the kind of person looking for romance or escapism or some fantasy figure to save the day… guess what? You’ve got the wrong movie.
15. American Splendor (2003) – Dir. Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini
I think the quote above pretty much sums up why I love this movie… I’m really questioning why I even need to write anymore beyond that. But, I guess it wouldn’t be fair to you, dear reader, if I didn’t actually chime in a bit about why I love this film.
American Splendor is about misanthropic every-man Harvey Pekar, file clerk, obsessive collector (of comics and records), part-time critic and author… all of which I identify with. However, my love for this film isn’t pure narcissistic. The fact that I identify with Pekar on so many levels is just a piece of the puzzle.
The film is an interesting adaptation of Pekar’s autobiographical comic series, also called American Splendor, that mixes the fictionalized narrative with interviews with Harvey et al. about him, his life and his comics. It’s all very meta, seeing Harvey and his wife, Joyce Brabner, and friend/co-worker Toby Radloff in this sort of staged reality, then cutting back to the narrative of the film with the actors portraying them. I love it.
Paul Giamatti is amazing (as per usual) as Pekar, a performance that is uniquely his, not an impersonation of Pekar but rather an interpretation. Hope Davis is wonderful as Joyce Brabner, also putting her own spin on the character while still giving us a glimpse of the actual person. And then there’s Judah Friedlander playing Toby Radloff, a real-life character who is just too unique not to do an impersonation of, which Friedlander does brilliantly.
Great film. Great cast. Great comic. Great writer. Sadly, Harvey Pekar passed away this year. So, we’re lucky to have this film the way we do, with his direct involvement and presence. It’s a nice companion piece to his work as a writer. You should check out the film and Pekar’s comics, in both you’ll find wonderfully dry, humorously vitriolic commiseration.