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Movies: American Splendor
Sunday, 2004 September 26 - 12:10 pm
"American Splendor", based on the life of comic book icon Harvey Pekar, is both grim and uplifting.

Harvey Pekar was made nationally famous by his appearances on the David Letterman show. The genius behind the storylines of the naturalist comic "American Splendor", he has a tell-it-like-it-is demeanor which is all at once compelling and repulsive.

Harvey is slovenly and dumpy, but is not ashamed of it. But his appearance belies that fact that he's keenly observant and culturally literate. It's this duality that seems to define his existence: he is gruff and angry but also kind-hearted; he is jaded about life but also oddly romantic.

This movie follows his rise from a VA hospital file clerk to a cult hero. Paul Giamatti is brilliantly cast as Harvey; this is made especially clear when we compare him to the real Harvey Pekar, who appears from time to time in behind-the-scenes interviews. This is a novel and gutsy bit of filmmaking, by the way, juxtaposing the real-life character with the actor. Most of the time, movies would be worried about breaking the suspension of disbelief. In this case, it only serves to strengthen Giamatti's portrayal. And not only that, it shows us how Harvey Pekar lives and thinks: he is always looking at himself from the outside, seeing his life as a story within a story.

I'm sure there will be lots of folks that won't get this movie; anyone who doesn't understand Pekar's naturalist take on life might write him (and this movie) off as unimaginative, grim, and weird. But if you do get it, you'll find plenty to like in this cerebral and well-constructed film.

Rating: 4 / 5
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Posted by Ken in: moviesreviews

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