American Splendor
2003
Paul Giamatti stars as Harvey Pekar, a working-class file clerk who found an outlet for his creativity by chronicling the minutia of his life in Cleveland, Ohio, in a comic book series called American Splendor.

Scott Hardie: “It ruled.”

The best achievement of this film is its authenticity, which had to have been painstakingly realized. For a harsh reminder of flashy Hollywood phoniness, just watch the "Road to Splendor" featurette on the DVD; it's like a splash of cold water after seeing something so real and interesting for two hours. Harvey Pekar is a fascinating person and fortunately the movie sees fit to include him, even appearing on-screen with the actor playing him, Paul Giamatti, who doesn't break character. It's the only reasonable way to translate a comic book that presented fictional recreations of real life, and in addition to Giamatti in character and the real Harvey, we even get the comic book Harvey commenting on the action with them. This is not more Harvey Pekar than you need, just more than you're used to.

Always funny and warm despite the man's deeply-ingrained misanthropy, this movie is a pleasure to watch, and it contains the funniest pickup line I've ever heard. Only once (in Harvey's collapse late in the film) does it ring false. This movie is so good because it puts us on the screen. Most of us are not unflappable dramatic heroes or the beautiful people who have meet-cutes in romantic comedies; we're ugly schmoes with boring lives, but that doesn't mean that we are without value. We know humor, we know creativity, we know feeling, we know dignity, we know why we're still alive and what we should probably do with our time. Harvey and Joyce make reliable, intelligent messengers of the value of ordinary humanity.

This film is recommended for anyone who uses humor or art to get through the grinding mundanity of existence. It is also a must-rent for those who like metacinema; here's calling all Charlie Kaufman fans. This is definitely not escapism, but it will help you feel a whole lot better about being yourself, and it's a heck of a good time besides.

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