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USA: Fine Line Features
UK: Optimum Releasing
Cast: Chris Ambrose, Joey Krajcar, Josh Hutcherson, Cameron Carter, Daniel Tay, Mary Faktor, Paul Giamatti, Harvey Pekar, Shari Springer Berman, Larry John Meyers, Vivienne Benesch, Barbara Brown, Danny Hoch, James Urbaniak, Eli Ganias, Sylvia Kauders, Rebecca Borger
Directors: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini
USA: 100 mins
USA Rated: R for language
UK Certificate: 15 contains strong language
USA Release Date: 15 August 2003 (Limited Release)
UK Release Date: 2 January 2004
Cleveland native, V.A. hospital file clerk, and hilariously grumpy observer of life's strange and unpredictable pageant. A comic book writer, who writes about his everyday life as an omnivorous reader. A jazz lover, obsessive-compulsive collector, and lousy housekeeper. A prickly poet of the mundane who knows that all the strategizing in the world can't save a guy from choosing the wrong supermarket checkout line. Before camcorders, before Webcams, before nonstop reality TV, there was Harvey Pekar and his homegrown autobiographical comic book series "American Splendor." Since 1976, the pages of "American Splendor" have found Harvey puzzling, fuming, and marveling over the minutiae of his day-to-day existence. No experience is too ordinary, no thought too incorrect for him to gnaw over in his funny, candid and utterly humane stories. Bringing his own brand of bravery to comic books, Harvey Pekar expresses what so many of us think and feel, but only dream of saying - and he never, ever holds back.
Now, acclaimed filmmakers Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini bring Pekar's story - in multiple senses of the word - to the screen in their first narrative feature, AMERICAN SPLENDOR. AMERICAN SPLENDOR is the true saga of a working-class Everyman who pursues self-expression without self-censorship - and finds a grateful audience, critical admiration, and that most remarkable of happy endings, a loving family. Like its namesake comic, AMERICAN SPLENDOR focuses on the large and small moments in the life of its curmudgeonly hero, and offers not one, but several illustrations of Harvey Pekar: the Harvey of the main narrative, portrayed by Paul Giamatti; a 2D animated Harvey; and the real Harvey, past (via archival footage) and present. The result is a film as inventive as the subject himself - one that captures Pekar's voice in all its hilarious, truthful, and cantankerous humanity.
And now, let us introduce our man ...
Harvey Pekar (Paul Giamatti) works as a file clerk at the local V.A. Hospital, a menial position whose chief attraction is its pension plan. It is, however, a perfect job for the obsessive-compulsive Harvey and does offer an environment that's notably tolerant of its employees' various personality tics. Harvey's interactions with his longtime co-workers offer some relief from the monotony, and their discussions encompass everything from rock & roll and the decline of American culture to new flavors of jellybeans and life itself. At home, Harvey spends his time reading, listening to records, and writing articles about jazz and literature. His apartment is dominated by thousands of books and LPs, and he regularly scours Cleveland's thrift stores and garage sales for more, savoring the rare joy of a great 25-cent find. It is at one of these junk sales that Harvey meets Robert Crumb (James Urbaniak), a greeting card artist and music enthusiast.
Harvey is rarely surprised by life's idiotic torments and intermittent disasters, to which he responds with hilarious, uninhibited spleen. But the thought of leaving this world having left no mark troubles him. Meanwhile, his old record-shopping buddy Crumb has found international recognition for his underground comics. Energized by the idea that comic books can be a valid art form for adults, Harvey decides to write his own brand of comic. An admirer of naturalist writers like Theodore Dreiser, Harvey makes it a truthful, unsentimental record of his working-class life, a warts-and-all self-portrait. Encouraged by Crumb, who illustrates some stories, Harvey publishes "American Splendor" #1 in 1976.
"American Splendor" brings Harvey acclaim, but as the 70s turn into the 80s, he still he finds his life lacking. Then "American Splendor" brings Harvey his soul mate: Joyce Brabner (Hope Davis), a partner in a Delaware comic book store who writes to him one day to request an additional copy after her hippie partner sells the last issue. Joyce's sardonic persona is easily a match for Harvey's own; with little ado, they are soon married. Together, they experience the bizarre byproducts of Harvey's cult fame, including his series of increasingly unruly appearances on "Late Night with David Letterman" and a stage adaptation of "American Splendor."
But a taste of the limelight does not alter the fundamentals of Harvey's existence, and he continues to toil at the V.A. hospital while writing "American Splendor." One day, a cartoonist collaborator arrives for a work session accompanied by a bright, unflappable child named Danielle Batone (Madylin Sweeten). Thus begins perhaps the most surprising story of "American Splendor" yet, one that finds Harvey, Joyce and Danielle coming together to form the unlikeliest of nuclear families.
Of course, AMERICAN SPLENDOR itself marks a new chapter in the continuing saga of Harvey Pekar, Cleveland's grouchiest son and a superhero for the rest of us. Whether you love him or have never heard his name, AMERICAN SPLENDOR brings this quintessentially American character to three-dimensional life, telling his story in human, accessible terms. Above all, AMERICAN SPLENDOR is the anti-biopic that Pekar's life and work demands, a nervy film that refuses to play by the genre rulebook; a film as unique, smart and wonderful as Pekar himself.
AMERICAN SPLENDOR won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival.