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American Splendor (15)

Review by: Graeme Kay | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Introductions to DVD extras by Harvey Pekar; Group audio commentary with directors, cast and Harvey Pekar; Harvey at the BBC: Interview with Harvey Pekar; Featurette: Sundance Channel's 'Road to Splendor'; Behind the Scenes: mini-featurettes on characterization, title sequence and Robert Crumb; Trailers.

ENJOYABLE drama-doc about the life and times of Harvey Pekar, the writer responsible for the American Splendor comic book series.

First, a little background information.
Harvey Pekar was a grumpy, pessimistic slob who spent most of his working life filing records in the Cleveland Veterans' Association Hospital, probably one of the most boring jobs in the world.

Luckily, for Harvey though, he had two consuming passions, jazz and comic books, which stopped him going completely mental.

Even more fortuitous, he also had a
friend called Robert Crumb, who went on to become a world-famous comic book artist with titles such as Mr Natural and Fritz the Cat.

Inspired by Crumb's success, Pekar began to write stories based on his own humdrum existence (he even made his battle with testicular cancer the theme of one of his books), but such was the wit with which he described his far from glamorous life that the stories took on a surreal magic of their own.

These tales of urban alienation were then illustrated by a group of artists, including Crumb, and so in, 1976, American Splendor was born, to great acclaim.

Shot on the bleak rubbish strewn streets of Cleveland and featuring fine performances from Paul Giamatti (as Harvey), Hope Davis (as his eccentric wife, Joyce) and Judah Friedlander (as Toby the ultimate Nerd - a dead ringer for the comic book store owner from The Simpsons) the film mixes dramatisations of episodes of Pekar's life with interviews with the writer and his close friends, family and associates.

And, as an added bonus, there is some great footage of Harvey's regular appearances on the David Letterman TV show.

The result is a painfully honest, darkly comic and engrossing account of life on the edge that is totally engrossing and makes it hard not to like Harvey, despite his gloomy personality.

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