Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Film Decade List #19: American Splendor

American Splendor (Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini, USA, 2003)

It's a testament to how entertaining a film American Splendor is when its central character is so cantakerous, moody, and difficult to like as Harvey Pekar. But the film, much like Pekar's work, take the mundane, soul-crushing existence that is most of Pekar's life and makes him a sympathetic, endearing character. Harvery as a person and as a character (played by Paul Giamatti) has his faults but his willingness to tell almost everything seems to wash over his less than desirable attributes. The film eschews traditional biography, instead blending fiction scenes with actors and the real-life characters sitting around talking to the directors. What really makes the two blend together so seamlessly is that the performances so perfectly match the people. Giamatti and Hope Davis as Harvey's wife, Joyce, nail every idiosyncrasy in their real-life character's personalities. The one who nearly steals the entire movie is Judah Friedlander as Toby Flenderson, Harvery's co-worker and self-appointed "nerd." Friedlander sticks everything, from Toby's body language down to his distinctive voice. It's a role that could be seen strictly as comic relief but like everyone else, Toby comes across so truthfully and sincerely, you never end up laughing at him but you identify. The basis of American Splendor is in the moments, to pick some semblance of truth in the human experience that make part of these characters present in everyone that lives in a crappy town, has a dead-on job and is looking for some way to seem worthwhile in life.

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