Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
This film focuses on the life and times of Harvey Pekar, a file clerk in Cleveland, Ohio, whose day-to-day doldrums were made the focus of a very popular underground comic book entitled "American Splendor". The success of the cartoon led to some fame in his regard, with appearances on the Late Show with David Letterman and plays based on his writings. This film is yet another off-shoot from that comic, focusing on his initial meeting with artist Robert Crumb, his wife Joyce and his tough times with cancer.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
Overrated, but decent. All I'd been hearing about since this film was released in 2003, was how great it was, what a masterpiece had been created and how fascinating and brilliant the life and times of one Harvey Pekar were. So maybe I had my expectations set too high when I finally saw this movie, and other than the filmmakers' extremely creative visual and presentation style, not much from the actual life of the star of the movie, Harvey Pekar, provided me with insight into why everyone was so fascinated with this film, and furthermore, the comics on which the film is based. Granted, "American Splendor" isn't like every other "superhero" comic book out there, focusing instead on the life of your "average guy" with day-to-day problems, but between me and you...who wants to read that shit?
I was personally a little bored with this film, and didn't exactly get into this guy's life or so-called witty quips about every day life. I usually appreciate the "neurotic, kvetching Jewish guy" character in most films (huge fan of Woody Allen, I am), but this guy was just plain depressing, pessimistic and unappreciative about the good things in his life, to the point that he started to piss me off. Dude, you've got a ton of shit going for you, how about you lighten up a spot? I understand that his lethargic attitude is exactly what many others love about him, but I didn't. It didn't help that many of his friends in the movie were major nerds and annoying. The acting in the film, on the other hand, was solid, as was its pacing and soundtrack, and I actually did appreciate the unorthodox "romance" between the lead and his real-life wife, but overall, I just wasn't bowled over much. If you want to see an extremely original style of film though, check this one out as it's shot a lot like an actual comic book, crossed with an actual documentary, featuring the actual Pekar, real clips from his TV appearances, etc...
I was a little disappointed with this film's extras section as well. One of the things I love most about DVDs is how the ones based on "fact" or the real life of someone, generally have packed extras with more detail about the actual event or persons. In this case, all we get is an audio commentary from the directors, cast and Harvey Pekar, but no insightful documentary, no additional examples from the very successful comic book, no interview sessions with the real Pekar (I had seen them all on "Charlie Rose" once, and it looked very interesting) or excerpts from his actual appearances on the Letterman Show or Dave's reaction to the film, etc... So much potential, but none realized. Maybe they're waiting to slap it all on a "Special Edition" or something.
The commentary track also wasn't as animated or insightful as I thought it might be, with pauses every now and again, and more emphasis on Pekar's nerdie friend than either Pekar or Giamatti (who barely says a word throughout) Pekar's responses and interest are also particularly distressing since he barely seems awake for the track and answers everything with an "I don't know". Thanks, man. Thanks for the insight. PS: This track also pissed me off because it revealed many of the "fictionalized" parts of the movie including how the couple actually got their daughter, where Pekar met Crumb, etc...
The disc also includes a 6-minute featurette called "Road to Splendor" which essentially just follows the real Pekar, his wife Joyce and daughter around to all of the film festivals at which the movie was released (Sundance, Cannes, etc...), as well as the San Diego Comic Con. We also get an audio song called "American Splendor", the film's trailer, most HBO Films trailers, as well as some DVD-Rom features. Some easter eggs are also on the dvd, but I didn't have the time to figure out where they were. One cool thing that is included with this DVD is a 12-page mini-comic insert called "My Movie Year", that first appeared in "Entertainment Weekly" magazine. Overall, disappointing.
Despite being an easy watch at a little over a buck and a half and featuring several quaint stylish choices and an odd feeling of documentary/movie, AMERICAN SPLENDOR ultimately disappointed me a little, if only because the hype around the film had been hammered into my mind for months before I saw the movie. The disc's extras were also not as complementary as I'd hoped for a film of its sort, so I would recommend that you rent this puppy before buying it blind, like I had thought of doing. Now back I go to my own comic strip about a loser movie fansite webmaster whose massive penis destroys everything around him, but not his fragile heart. INT. COMPUTER ROOM...