movie review: american splendor

So, I took a trip out to Boston's only non-profit art deco movie theatre (it said so, anyway, although it actually isn't in Boston) to catch a free screening of the forth-coming indie film American Splendor. Based on the cult comic of the same name, it tells the story of Harvey Pekar, hospital file-clerk in Cleveland. The comic book is a weird mix of autobiography and meandering philosophy and the movie tries to recreate this by employing a really weird narative without actually going too far. There is a story being told and its mostly linear. The biggest trick is naration from and frequent appearance by the real Harvey Pekar. He is, indeed, a very interesting character. His apperances also include many of the other "real" people in Harvey's life and in his comics. They lend a lot of credibility to their portrayals and are pretty fascinating in their own right. The mix of documentary and fiction is even brought into the movies plot as it is commented on by the real Pekar. All in all, it could have come off as an overwhelming gimmick, but I really think it was sold perfectly.

Paul Giamatti is brilliant as the fictional Harvey Pekar. He's easily the bright spot of the film as some of the other characters are a touch over played. His nerdy friend Toby, though, seems to be overplayed until the film introduces us to the real Toby and it becomes aparent that he really is as painfully nerdy as the movie made him out to be. It actually becomes quite funny as we see the real Harvey and Toby talking (with their actors sitting behind them) and you see just how dead-on the portrayal is. Still, given the conceit of the film as being a self-aware recreation of a recreation of reality, it is to be expected. (Actually, a further level is brought in as the fictional Harvey views a play within the film based on his life, meaning we are seeing a recreation of a recreation of a recreation in a recreation of a recreation. Get that?

The story is focused on examining the plight of the mundane and the struggles of what is often demeaned as ordinary. His life is admitedly not extraordinary, but that doesn't mean it is ordinary, either. It is a fascinating story with some great philosophy at times. Harvey really is living the American Dream, if he doesn't always realize it. No, his comic book never allowed him to live off his writings. But he got to tell his story. Much like I and so many other blog writers are doing, but he did it at a time when not everyone could just sign on and tell their story to the four interested people. As such, his ordinary life was able to speak to a much wider audience and he was able to tell the story of his life. That's the real American dream, I'd think. The chance to tell our story and be remembered. I highly recommend this film. Great flick.

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