Sweet, funny and off-kilter, American Splendor blurs the boundaries between documentary and drama, creating something striking and original. Harvey Pekar is our hero, a comic book writer whose subject is himself, with his work portraying the everyday existence of a sour but sincere honest Everyman. He's portrayed in three dimensions: by an actor (Paul Giamatti); as cartoon/comic book caricatures; and by himself - looking on at the fictionalised recreation of his life and providing the unusual biopic's voiceover.
There's no easy way to explain this curious 'faction', which follows a sadsack hospital clerk grumping his way through an unremarkable Cleveland life. Until, that is, he decides to record his everyday existence in the comic book American Splendor, and finds an audience which identifies with his problems and passions.
"A UNIQUE, UNUSUAL CHARACTER"
If you do, too, then chances are you'll enjoy this oddball feature from husband and wife documentary makers Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman. Filmed in the grainy, washed-out hues of a typical 70s American movie, it takes some tuning in to, but is anchored by a brilliant performance from Giamatti. The know-the-face-not-the-name character actor has long deserved a leading role, and manages to capture a unique, unusual character without being patronising or sentimental. In a just world, he would be Oscar nominated.
The man who describes his reflection as a "reliable disappointment" isn't the know-nothing misery he first appears, and his relationship with the equally abrasive but affectionate Joyce (Hope 'About Schmidt' Davis) is touching in its honesty and co-dependence. As a character observes of Harvey's comic, so viewers may remark of the film: "It's pretty truthful, which is rare these days."