Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival, this biographical comedy drama by documentary makers Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Sherman fuses live-action film, archive footage and animation to tell the story of comic book writer Harvey Pekar (played in the live action sections of the film by Paul Giamatti). Harvey leads a dull, monotonous life, working as a file clerk at a local veterans' hospital. At home, he fills his days by reading, writing and listening to jazz, and compulsively collects books and records which fill the walls and floors of his apartment. Inspired by the work of his friend Robert Crumb (James Urbaniak), Harvey writes comics about the minor trials and tribulations of everyday life, and gradually attains celebrity status as his work gains initially a cult and then a mainstream following. Despite his newfound success, it is his meeting with sardonic comic store owner Joyce Brabner (Hope Davis) that changes his life most profoundly. The two marry within days of their first meeting, and go on to co-write a book-length comic based on their life together, 'Our Cancer Year'.
One of the most acclaimed films of 2003, American Splendor
is also one of the most audaciously creative biographical movies ever made. Blending fact, fiction and personal perspective from the comic books that inspired it, this marvellous portrait of Harvey Pekar--scowling curmudgeon, brow-beaten everyman, insightful chronicler of his own life, and frustrated file clerk at a Cleveland VA hospital--is an inspired amalgam of the media (comic books, TV, and film) that lifted Pekar from obscurity to the status of a pop-cultural icon. As played by Paul Giamatti in a master-stroke of casting, we see Pekar and his understanding wife (played by Hope Davis) as underdogs in a world full of obstacles, yet also infused with subtle hope and (gasp) heartwarming perseverance. We also see the real Pekar and this multi-faceted commingling of "reel" and "real" turns American Splendor
into a uniquely cinematic celebration of Pekar's life and, by extension, the tenacity of an unlikely American hero. --Jeff Shannon