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Laramie Movie Scope:
American Splendor

Even a pessimist can get lucky

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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January 8, 2004 -- “American Splendor” is an unconventional movie in just about every sense of the word. It combines line drawing comics with live action footage. It combines documentary footage with biographical fiction. It also includes one of the wackiest romantic comedy storylines (based on fact) you are ever likely to see. All of this wouldn't be worth a tinker's damn if it wasn't all so brilliantly done, and by novice filmmakers at that! This is one of the 10 best films of the year.

The film version of Harvey Pekar's autobiographical comic book, “American Splendor,” has at least four versions of Pekar on the screen. Harvey as a youth, as an adult (brilliantly played by Paul Giamatti), Harvey's animated alter-ego from his comic book, and the real Harvey, as seen on national television talk shows and as he appears while doing narration for this movie. Pekar is definitely an oddball, but he is also, in a strange way, and kind of everyman. He's lonely, has few friends, hates his job and is worried he will die alone and be quickly forgotten. He likes to collect old vinyl records and comic books, and this gets him acquainted with underground artist Harry Crumb (who was the subject of a brilliant documentary, “Crumb”).

After talking to Crumb, Pekar hits upon the idea of creating a comic book based on his own life as a hospital file clerk. Never mind that he cannot draw a straight line, he tries anyway, drawing crude, stick-figure comics. Crumb likes Pekar's storylines and volunteers to illustrate the cartoons for him. With Crumb's help, Pekar launches “American Splendor” which becomes an underground comic book hit. His comic book is noticed by a fan, Joyce (Hope Davis) who agrees to meet Harvey. The two become married soon after one of the strangest romances you will ever see. The two have their problems and Harvey gets cancer, but things turn out a lot better than one would expect. Harvey is a miserable pessimist, but a good deal luckier at life and love than he has any right to expect to be. Harvey is not the kind of guy that Norman Vincent Peale had in mind when he wrote, “The Power of Positive Thinking.” Even so, Harvey Pekar is a remarkable American success story.

The story is very engaging. The use of cartoons, along with live action is very effective. Giamatti and Hope Davis both give excellent performances, and both have been nominated for numerous awards by various critics groups around the country. Novice writer-directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini have also been honored by various critics groups around the country for their breakthrough effort in this film. The L.A. Film Critics Association and the National Society of Film Critics also named “American Splendor” the year's best film and best screenplay. It certainly gets my vote as one of the 10 best films of the year. It comes in number five on my list, after Seabiscuit, The Station Agent, The Cooler and In America. This film rates an A.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2004 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)