Geoff Wilkinson

American Splendour

1st August 2005
Movie Poster reviewer: Geoff Wilkinson
rating: 3 out of 5
directed by: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini
written by: Harvey Pekar, Joyce Brabner
starring: Paul Giamatti, Harvey Pekar, Hope Davis
genre: Biography, Comedy, Drama
released: 2nd January 2004

American Splendour is the movie adaptation of a series of underground comic books of the same name. Given the current crop of Hollywood blockbusters based on comic books you would be forgiven for thinking this film is just jumping on the bandwagon. The American Splendour comics though were based on real life observations by one man; Harvey Pekar, who crafted the comics around his own life experiences twisted by his own depressed outlook on life.

The movie basically takes Harvey's life which he had already documented in the comics and adds a bit of a background story. Less fantastic and more autobiographical, the film simply follows Harvey (played by Paul Giamatti) through some of the important events of his life, interspered with a few illustrations from the comic itself and real life interviews with the real Harvey Pekar.

It might not sound outstanding and to be honest it isn't it is just a view of a normal person's life, which some might argue is lacking from many big movies. I did however find it to be very watchable and enjoyed the snapshots which were explored. What I found more interesting was how the characters were portrayed, in such a way that they seemed almost imagined until the film-makers introduced the person in real life and had exactly the same mannerisms and appearance.

Another clever part of the film was the use of archived footage of Harvey Pekar from real life. As his comic book began to get more attention he was invited to appear on the David Letterman show, and while the off-set preparation is played by Giamatti, the moment he steps out for the interview the archived footage is put on. It shows how Giamatti has captured Harvey almost perfectly.

Similar to a lot of blockbusters the story covers a range of high and low points which help keep the viewer involved but considering the setting of actual life experiences this is, in part, to be expected. In my mind these real life events were more satisfying to watch than many fictional stories can be.