Hey big "Splendor"
Holy Angst Batman! "American Splendor" reveals a
comically refracted American dream, as seen through the
cracked prism of comic-book author Harvey Pekar's eternally "half-empty"
By LESLIE (HOBAN) BLAKE
Humor as a dramatic defense against the wrath of the
gods was first devised by such early Greek and Roman humorists as
Aristophanes and Plautus. And there's a special subspecies of humor that
declares, "If I didn't laugh, I'd cry!" For the last
quarter of a century, Harvey Pekar has defended himself
from the gods he doesn't believe in, by charting his
dreary day-to-day Cleveland existence via his
dark postmodern graphic comix novelizations.
This summer's best page to screen adaptaion of a comic book isn't Ang
Lee's big fat green disaster, "The Hulk," produced by James Schamus.
That distinction belongs to this far more modest, yet much cleverer
adaption of Pekar's "American Splendor," produced, ironically enough, by
Schamus' former Good Machine partner, Ted Hope.
|Written and directed by: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini.|
Adapted from comics by: Harvey Pekar, Joyce Brabner.
Cast: Paul Giamatti, Hope Davis, James Urbaniak, Harvey Pekar, Judah Friedlander, Danny Hoch.
Related links: Official site
Pekar's eponymous graphic novel-cum-biopic
translates brilliantly to the screen thanks to the married co-directing
team of Shari Springer Berman and
Robert Pulcini. Together they created this Sundance
Grand Jury Prize winner by combining live action with
animation and using both actors and their real-life
counterparts to produce a truly original docu-drama.
There's the real Pekar; his on-screen doppelganger, played to perfection by
the always marvelous Paul Giamatti ("Confidence"); Pekar's real-life wife,
Joyce Brabner and her on-screen dopple-whatsit, the lovely Hope Davis
("Secret Lives of Dentists," "Next Stop Wonderland") completely obscured by a raccoonish pair of
glasses and a halloween fright wig. There's even a play within the film
featuring still another Harvey and Joyce played by Donal Logue and
SNL's Molly Shannon, as well as cartoon versions of both.|
"American Splendor" tells the story of Pekar, a single,
morose, lonely and horny obsessive/compulsive V.A. hospital
clerk and comic book author. With the help of his third wife and
sometime writing partner, Joyce Brabner, Pekar becomes a married,
morose, obsessive/compulsive, cancer-surviving, retired clerk, comic book
author and adoptive father. Surely the oddest of couplings in many moons.
Among the panoply of unusual characters are Pekar's fellow jazz
record collector and artistic role model, Robert (aka R.) Crumb (an extraordinary performance from James
Urbaniak/"Henry Fool") and Toby Radloff (Judah Friedlander), a
borderline autistic co-worker and friend of Pekar's. Toby's a self-proclaimed "nerd"
and proud of it, with the most distinctive speech pattern since Hoffman's "Rain
Man," and a comb-over that rivals The Donald's.|
Crumb's a different sort of oddball, but it's his friendship and vision that
kick-start Pekar's career as a graphic novelist. Over the years, Pekar was
illustrated by at least a dozen different artists, which occasions one of the film's
many comic highpoints. Joyce has never seen the real Harvey, only six or seven illustators' versions of what he looks like. When
she arrives in Cleveland to meet him for the first time, multiple illustrated Harveys are sitting around the station.
One of the best of a slew of excellent late-summer releases, "American Splendor" is a
low-budget/instant cult classic, as original and true as its quirky progenitor
and that's saying a lot. Don't just see the movie, read the graphic novel. As Pekar opines, "ordinary life is pretty complex stuff."
|AUGUST 22, 2003|
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