Magazine article Newsweek

Shredding the Envelope: 'American Splendor' Is the Anti Summer Movie: A Bent Biopic That Trashes Every Hollywood Convention-And Then Some

Magazine article Newsweek

Shredding the Envelope: 'American Splendor' Is the Anti Summer Movie: A Bent Biopic That Trashes Every Hollywood Convention-And Then Some

Article excerpt

Byline: David Ansen

Arriving not a moment too soon, "American Splendor" is a glorious rebuke to all this summer's recycled, effects-ridden, laboriously "fun" Hollywood disappointments piled along the wayside like so many crashed cars. An unclassifiable hybrid of drama, comedy, documentary and animation set mostly in grungy, working-class Cleveland, starring a paunchy leading man playing a depressive, angry outsider who falls for a neurotic, unglamorous woman, this is everything that a summer movie is not supposed to be. And somehow it's wonderful. Not for nothing did Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini's movie win best feature at Sundance from both the jury and the audience. So far this year, no American movie has provided such rich, unusually satisfying flavors.

The movie's subject is cult comic-strip writer Harvey Pekar, whose scruffily naturalistic comic books (which he wrote, but didn't draw) home in furiously on the large and small indignities of his own life. His work (as well as his music and pop-culture criticism) wins him a hard-core fan base, numerous awards, a play based on his work and cranky stints on David Letterman's show--but only modest financial success. Through it all, he keeps his full-time job as a file clerk at the VA Hospital in Cleveland, which no doubt suits his obsessive-compulsive nature.

Unlikely movie material, to say the least. But taking their cue from Pekar's work, the husband-and-wife team of Berman and Pulcini stretch the boundaries of movie bios. Just as Pekar looked like a different guy depending on who was drawing him, the filmmakers present him in four guises: as played--with pained, kvetchy brilliance--by Paul Giamatti; as an animated black-and-white figure; as he appeared in clips from his ranting guest spots on TV, and as himself--a pugnacious, gravel-voiced man giving a running commentary on his life and the movie we're watching. …

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