American Splendor (2003)
Directors/Writers: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini
Actors: Paul Giamatti, Earl Billings, Danny Hoch, James Urbaniak, Judah Friedlander, Hope Davis, Harvey Pekar, Joyce Brabner
This movie is pretty relaxing for me and that’s one of the things I like about it. It’s also about comics, and is the most successful attempt so far to put some of what comics (underground comics, anyway) are all about on screen. The film’s fractured narrative, interspersed with real footage of its subjects, sometimes even intermingling with the actors who are playing them, necessarily echos the episodic structure of Harvey Pekar’s comics and and one of the methods that give comics their unique power. It’s something that film doesn’t often do, and certainly doesn’t often do with success.
Despite that, though, it’s a really simple “slice of life” story about what’s, on the surface, really just about the crap people face everyday. Real people, the salt of the earth, going to normal jobs, where they don’t make much money, going to the supermarket, trying to do something of value, collecting people and things about which they hope to care. Yes, eventually David Letterman gets involved, and Harvey gets cancer, but even those more extraordinary events are vehicles to showcase the heroics acts of ordinary effort.
When I watch this movie, I settle into the jazz music and the funky-Cleveland setting, laugh to myself and the good bits, marvel at James Urbaniak’s sly turn as Crumb, and eventually get overtaken and moved to tears by the sincerity of the filmmakers’ handiwork.