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Fine film, flimsy features

The Film:

Even though Harvey Pekar was a slob, a grouch and a pessimist, American Splendor, a film based on his underground comic books, is brilliant.

Harvey’s grim life is portrayed in all it’s dirty glory. The story is narrated by the real Harvey Pekar, with his raspy voice leading the audience from one scene to the next. Harvey (acted out by Paul Giamatti) battles everything from the monotony of everyday life to testicular cancer.

Giamatti’s performance is powerful, making his portrayal of the real life anti-hero anything but ordinary.

The film is a much better adaptation of a comic book than recently released blockbusters such as X-men, Daredevil and The Hulk (which attempted to capture the frame-by-frame look of a graphic novel, failing miserably). It blends animation with live action, but, instead of imitating the fake style of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Splendor takes its own unique approach.

The biopic also includes shots of the real-life characters, including Pekar, Joyce Brabner (Harvey’s wife), Toby Radloff (Harvey’s coworker) and others. While the scenes adapted from the comic book seem incredibly real, the scenes featuring the real people are made to look like comic book panels and frames.

What we said then:

One of the most originally done biopics, where the inspiration behind the film doesn’t remain a faceless blob. The story follows Harvey Pekar, a man whose life as a file clerk in a local V.A. hospital is anything but exciting. Inspired by his friend Robert Crumb and his comic book success, Harvey decides to write his own underground comic, aptly titled American Splendor, and achieves a bizarre celebrity status. Exceptionally well written and casted, Splendor’s secondary characters are just as strong as the main cast and deliver some of the most memorable lines of any film this year. (Jan. 15, 2004)

The DVD:

Unfortunately, the extras accompanying this incredible film are disappointing. The regular feature of most DVDs, the cast and crew commentary is unique and “The Road to Splendor” featurette is interesting, but those are the only two extras with any value to them.

The commentary involves everyone from the directors to the cast to the real Pekar and his family and friends. It’s an interesting look at the film and provides an insight into Pekar’s life and the making of the movie. Also included on the DVD is an American Splendor audio track, a song included in the film and “My Movie Year,” a comic book insert previously published in Entertainment Weekly.

Contact Olga Robak