Movie Reviews
12:58 pm
Sat September 6, 2003

American Splendor

This is the right movie for anyone who loves comic books, eccentrics, and the splendor of American diversity.


The human comedy does not get better than the depiction of real-life comic-book storyteller and file clerk Harvey Pekar in "American Splendor." The dramatization of this authentic nerd's life is also part documentary because real life people like Pekar and his wife, Joyce, and their eccentric friends appear now and then as themselves. It's a mess like his crowded room but about as fascinating a story and acting as you will see this year.

Paul Giammetti as Pekar is dead on strange, loveable, and brilliant, just like his character, who achieved fame in the '80's with his comics and his several appearances on Letterman, until he became too acerbic, real, and exploited.

Together with Hope Davis as a caring Olive Oyle with brains, Giammetti should get a nomination for an actor who not only imitates but also inhabits his role, unlike Jim Carrey's imitation-only of Andy Kaufman in "Shoot the Moon."

Like his comic books, Pekar tells his life the way it is, flaws, flakes, and all, so true and funny that the audience must nod in agreement about life when he says, ''I don't understand it, baby, it's so strange, sometimes''

I visited a pet shop in rural Ohio yesterday. The owner had an array of puppies to melt even my careful heart, and he was a certifiable nerd: Talking like a dad to the pups, he was smart, overweight, unworldly, kind, and interesting as hell. He looked like he came straight out of "American Splendor." But then, most of my academic and film critic friends could, too.

"If you're the kind of person looking for romance or fantasy or escapism," Harvey lectures in a voiceover, "You've got the wrong movie." This is the right movie for anyone who loves comic books, eccentrics, and the splendor of American diversity.