Preview by: Jack Foley
AMERICAN Splendor, a biographical movie about Cleveland's
autobiographical comic writer, Harvey Pekar, was named the Dramatic
Grand Jury Prize winner at this year's Sundance Film Festival
and looks set to be among the more talked about independent films
of the year.
Starring Paul Giamatti (of Planet
of the Apes fame) and Hope Davis, the movie has been directed
by the husband and wife team of Shari Springer Berman and Robert
Pulcini and tells the true story of a file clerk working at a
Cleveland Veterans hospital, who, on the side, struggles to achieve
success as a writer with comic books about his experiences. The
film combines both dramatic and documentary elements.
Originally made as a HBO release, the film will now be distributed
in cinemas owing to its Sundance success (always a catalyst for
getting quality, indie movies on to the big screen) and is now
being backed by Fine Line Features.
Announcing the deal recently, Colin Callender, president, HBO
Films, said: "We're very proud that HBO Films was able to
help Shari and Robert realize their vision of American Splendor.
It's an extraordinary directorial debut...
"It was also very exciting to see the reception it received
at Sundance from audiences and critics alike. We're delighted
to be in business with Bob Shaye, Michael Lynne, Mark Ordesky,
Russell Schwartz and the entire New Line and Fine Line team. They
share our passion for Harvey Pekar's story; and we look forward
to working together with them to bring American Splendor to the
Mark Ordesky, president of Fine Line Features, added: "American
Splendor is brilliant, exciting, genre-bending filmmaking. HBO
is on the leading edge of ground-breaking independent cinema,
and we are excited to help bring that vision to a wide audience."
The film is said to immerse audiences in the life and worldview
of Harvey Pekar: file clerk, working-class intellectual, obsessive
compulsive collector, and creator of the seminal autobiographical
comic book series 'American Splendor'.
For over two decades, the pages of American Splendor have documented
the mundane tribulations, random experiences and cultural enthusiasms
that make up Pekar's day-to-day existence in his native Cleveland,
Ohio, and the movie is the saga of a working-class everyman who
found love, family and a creative voice through comic books.
Like its namesake comic, the film focuses on the large and small
moments in the life of its prickly 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 has been described by critics at Sundance as a wildly
'inventive film that captures Pekar's voice in all its simple,
honest, and cantankerous human scope'.
In accepting the Sundance award, co-directors Springer Berman
and Pulcini commented: "I think this award can safely be
called the true revenge of the nerds."
It also marks HBO's second foray into theatrical distribution,
following the highly successful Real
Women Have Curves, which is currently in release at selected
cinemas in London.
Having made such a splash at Sundance, it is little surprise
to find the US critics falling over themselves to deliver a positive
Leading the way is Entertainment Weekly, which awarded
it the maximum A, and declared that it is 'one of the best movies
of the year'.
Likewise, the New York Post, which awarded it three and
a half out of four, and concluded that it forms 'the splendid
climax to one of the best Summers in years on the art-film circuit'.
Rolling Stone awarded it similar marks, before predicting
that it will be 'one of the best times you'll have at the movies
While the New York Times referred to it, merely, as 'extraordinary'.
Newsday declared that it is 'funny, clever, tender and
wry, while always holding true to its ongoing identity crisis',
while Variety felt that 'it's a profound tribute to lives
lived on the fringes of society -- to the introspective loners
who are the most observant chroniclers of our times'.
Film Threat stated that it is 'one of the most wildly
original, dryly comical, and smartly structured films ever created'.
And Village Voice referred to it as 'a jazzy and humane
synthesis of the comic books that Cleveland writer Harvey Pekar
has for 25 years fashioned from the dross of his daily life'.
The Hollywood Reporter, meanwhile, wrote that 'the two
documentarians in their feature debut hit an unbelievably rich
vein of drama, humor, love, whimsy, psychological turmoil, commonplace
travails, genuine trauma and artistic triumph'.
And the glowing reviews keep on coming....
The Los Angeles Times wrote that 'Giamatti looks nothing
like Pekar either in person or in his various cartoon guises,
but in a warmly sympathetic performance he brings the character
to grubby, soulful life'.
While Film Journal International observed that 'seldom
have grouches, misfits and, yes, nerds seemed so endearing'.
And the New York Observer stated that 'there's a tremendous
amount of cultural vitality out there in the land of the losers;
American Splendor is one of the first and best films to capitalize
fully on this phenomenon'.
The Cranky Critic, meanwhile, urged cinema-goers to 'discover
the extraordinary in the just plain ordinary existence of a just
plain ordinary guy', adding that American Splendor is 'a stunning
And rounding off this overview is USA Today, which really
should be the clincher in helping film buffs in the UK rush to
see it, when it is released over here.
It wrote that American Splendor is 'the best movie about society's
untrendiest since Ghost World
exactly two years ago'.