Wednesday, February 18, 2009

DVD: American Splendor

Directors: Robert Pulcini, Shari Springer-Berman
Starring: Paul Giamatti, Hope Davies,Harvey Pekar
Year made: 2003
From the second the credits scroll and pan across the screen you know you’re in for something quite different. This does not do American Splendor justice; as films go it is actually a bit special...

“Ordinary life is pretty complex stuff,” says Harvey Pekar, whose life is just about as everyday as you get. He works his 9-5 as a file clerk in the dilapidated city of Cleveland. In his spare time he collects comic books and records, which he feels the need to negotiate down from 25 cents at a garage sale. In a bizarre twist of fate Pekar is also the hero of his own underground comic book, American Splendor. Now he’s a movie star too.

Directors Pulcini and Berman blow the world of the normal apart with a postmodern detonation of originality and filmic innovation. This is joyfully daring stuff as the lines between real, comic and film existence are blurred. Giamatti puts in a career-best performance as Pekar, the grumpy eccentric bumbling his way to fame without fortune. He receives more than a helping hand, the fine supporting players portraying the equally unique characters in Pekar’s quirky life.

Toby Radloff, a genuine nerd and borderline autistic, is one such oddity. It is an appropriately leftfield touch that sees him MC the commentary track, which features the directors, Giamatti, Pekar and his family, all of whom are on top form. Some details behind the film are revealed but this chat-track is all about entertainment and could just as easily have formed part of the film itself.

The ‘Road To Splendor’ featurette doesn’t even scratch the surface but is good if only to see the real Pekar in action. No time has been given over to the artists of American Splendor and their inclusion would have been an appropriate one. It’s a great shame this is the extent of the disc’s supplemental material. Still, easily worth it if only for the film.

Film: 4 Stars
Extras: 2 stars

Special features:
• Audio commentary by directors Pulcini and Springer-Berman and stars Giamatti,
Davies and Pekar
• ‘Road To Splendor’ featurette (6 mins)
• Harvey Pekar’s ‘My Movie Year’ comic book insert

If you like this why not try:
Ghost World
Terry Zwigoff’s offbeat comic book adaptation about two girls coming to terms with a phoney, lonely world. Brilliant.

This review first appeared in DVD Review #63