American Splendor (2003)

What the hell am I watching? Those are the words I actually said out loud as I started watching American Splendor. I didn't know absolutely anything about it and I just wasn't sure whether I was watching a documentary or a mockumentary or something else. Well, it was something else because that's what this film is, something else. A mix of fiction and reality that results into a quite brilliant biographical dramedy and one of the most inventive biographies I've seen. 

It's about Harvey Pekar, an underground comic books writer that turned his mundane, monotonous life into a humorous and successful comic books series, American Splendor.

The cool thing about this biography is that it uses the real Harvey Pekar (and some people from his life) to tell his story. He is the narrator and often intrudes into the narrative to make comments, such as complaining about the fact that Paul Giamatti (he plays Pekar in the narrative) doesn't look like him. What this different storytelling does is making you feel closer and more connected to the character, and really makes you care for him. If you ask me, that's hard to achieve in a biography. Also, having Pekar telling his story using his own words makes it more believable. 

To those two, add a third dimension, the comic book dimension. Seeing the strips from his comic books made the film even more interesting because they are not about superheroes like most comics, but they are about reality. They aren't about the man, they are about a man, Harvey Pekar, just an ordinary man who can't seem to fit into society. They are interesting because, like Pekar said, ordinary life is actually pretty complex stuff.

Fine Line Features, HBO Films
American Splendor also has a nice deal of humour. Most of it is delivered through the comic strips with one-liners and sitcom humour, but surprisingly it works. The rest of humour comes from Paul Giamatti who does a pretty good job as the grumpy Pekar, and at times makes the real Pekar look like an imitation.

If I were to find a flaw in this film would be that the characters aren't developed enough. Pekar's wife Joyce Brabner and his friend Toby Radloff would have been more interesting if the writers worked a little bit more on them. Surprisingly though, both Hope Davis as Jayce and Judah Friedlander as Toby were able to give good performances.

1 comment :

  1. I followed comic books from my very early childhood (early 1960s) until about ten to fifteen years ago, and I enjoyed reading American Splendor back in the '80s and '90s. I was really impressed with this film. A lot of the independent comics that have come out in the last thirty-plus years have been autobiographical comics that were inspired by Pekar. He unfortunately passed away in 2010.