American Splendor movie poster
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American Splendor movie poster

American Splendor Movie Review

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Paul Giamatti stars as Harvey Pekar in one of the most critically acclaimed movies of 2003, American Splendor. A unique blend of storytelling and documentary, Splendor is one of the more enjoyable movies this year, and is enhanced by Giamatti's stellar performance.

The real Harvey Pekar (who appears in this film during the documentary sections of the film) is the writer of the comic book "American Splendor," (who would have guessed?) which basically allows him to vent his frustrations to the rest of the world. The comic book parallels his life, and has detailed everything from his rocky marriage to his battle with cancer. Of course, up until seeing this movie, I had never heard of him or his comic.

American Splendor works on many levels, partially due to the neat mix of documentary (which only consists of about ten percent of the entire movie), cartoon editing and live-action. The movie, of course, excels during the live-action scenes, where Giamatti absolutely dominates. Giamatti captures Pekar's raspy voice down to the last syllable, and is absolutely hilarious as the notoriously grumpy man. It is a real shame he is not being considered for an Oscar.

Aside from the acting, which also features a good performance from Hope Davis, American Splendor has great writing and great direction. The movie isn't quite a comedy, as it gets much more dramatic as the story progresses, but everything works pretty well together. There are plenty of funny scenes, especially in the beginning, that sets the stage for everything else. I like how parts of the comic book are thrown into the mix.

The movie does begin to lose a bit of its splendor toward the end, as the story focuses a fair amount on Pekar's cancer. The scenes allow Giamatti to show off his range, but are not as powerful as the directors were hoping for. After all, we know that Pekar is still alive, so it is hard to really become engaged in his battle to survive. Furthermore, the second half is in such contrast to the quirkier first half that it seems a bit out of place. A little more comedy near the end would have been nice.

American Splendor is one of the better movies of 2003, but works better as a comedy than as a drama. Paul Giamatti is absolutely incredible here, and the story told is a fun one to watch.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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