American Splendor
Review by Ross Anthony

Film reviewers are swamped with invites (I'm not complaining), but the unfortunate part is that we simply cannot view all the films we'd like to view. "American Splendor" was one of those invites I held on my desk in hopes I'd find some time to screen. Why? Paul Giamatti. While many fans of Harvey Pekar will be buying tickets to watch a film about their favorite comic book writer/ underdog every-man hero; I simply wanted to see one of my favorite unsung actors in a lead role.

I missed all the screening, however, I kept an eye on my local Laemmle theatre listings and caught the film in Pasadena last night.

Paul did not disappoint me, painting a picture of Harvey as your average working Joe. A file clerk with an unkempt apartment hosting an eclectic collection of vinyl music and comic books. One day Harvey decides that ordinary life makes more sense to readers than superheroes so he pens a comicbook starring himself as himself. The comicbook apparently never rises above the underground despite several appearances of Harvey on the David Letterman Show (clips included in the film).

Unfortunately appropriately, the picture's a bit of a stick in the mud out of the gates, but picks up at the half hour mark and continues an upward swing adding surprisingly emotive angles to its quirky disposition. Filmmakers also included segments with the real Harvey (and others) as punctuation and sort of a reality check. These inclusions work well for those purposes with the only drawback of creating some minimal resistance on the film's momentum. Additionally, especially in the front end, inside specifics that "Harvey fans" will no doubt really enjoy, may cause drag for "Harvey laymen." In fact, that sticky front end is responsible for holding the picture out of my A range.

Still, this is a rough grumpy, yet warm portrait of a self-proclaimed pessimist, with a hesitant yet hopeful outlook. And of course, Giamatti's performance is stellar. For more on his films just type "Giamatti" into the SEARCH SITE box up in the top left corner of this page and click Go.

*ComicKaze is the name of a comic shop down in San Diego. It's a great name for a comic store and oddly appropriate for this article. Check them out at:

  • American Splendor. Copyright © 2003. Rated R.
  • Starring Paul Giamatti, Hope Davis, Judah Friedlander, James Urbaniak, Harvey Pekar, Joyce Brabner, Toby Radloff.
  • Screenwriters/directors: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini.
  • Produced by Ted Hope at HBO Films/Good Machine.

Grade..........................B+ (2.5/4)

Copyright © 2001. Ross Anthony, currently based in Los Angeles, has scripted and shot documentaries, music videos, and shorts in 35 countries across North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. For more reviews visit:

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Last Modified: Saturday, 16-Sep-2006 08:21:19 PDT