American Splendor review

:. Director: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini
:. Starring: Paul Giamatti, Chris Ambrose
:. Running Time: 1:41
:. Year: 2003
:. Country: USA


Welcome to the life of Harvey Pekar, an anti-hero who has made his pathetic life the subject of his comic book.

A friend of Robert Crumb, with whom he shares the same compulsive passion for vinyls, jazz and books, Pekar defines himself as a failure of the system. The "comics", whose texts he drafted were illustrated by Crumb among, led to a series ironically entitled American Splendor. Personal bankruptcy, low self-esteem, neuroses and daily worries govern the existence of Pekar, represented under the features of a notorious grump with dubious personal hygiene.

While Terry Zwigoff largely paid homage to Robert Crumb in the eponymous film Crumb (1994) or more recently in Ghost World (2002), through the work of Daniel Clowes, no film had been devoted to Harvey Pekar, a major figure of American "underground" culture.

It is true that in spite of his notoriety and his many literary and radio contributions, the man worked as a librarian in a Cleveland hospital until he retired. Thus, Pekar's life is like the inside of his house: a big mess concealing a thousand treasures.

The meeting with his female alter ego was as decisive as it was anti-spectacular. A chronic depressive like Pekar, Joyce Brabner burst into the life of her fetish author, in whose place she elected residence among the piles of books and the 78's. United in the same codependent relationship, the two beings together surmounted this rotten life. Joyce was the first to alert Pekar about that he and his semi moronic best friend Tony were the object of the media's exploitation. Indeed, Pekar was a guest on "Late Night" with David Letterman no less than eight times in two years. Moreover, the archived images, skillfully used in the film, make it possible to appreciate Pekar's witty comebacks.

All things considered, American Splendor exceeds the "biopic" to explore more experimental regions. Indeed, the two directors try to reinvent the framework, to free themselves from their limits with a mise en scène of the actual comic strip. The reconstitution of the 70's is juicy and avoids sinking into caricature. Finally one must underline the incredible performance of Paul Giamatti as Pekar, almost better than the real thing according to Pekar's various testimonies harmoniously inserted in the film. The losers have a future!

  Sandrine Marques
  Translated into English by Anji Milanovic

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