More noise than signal

American Splendor

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

One of the more recursive adaptations, as we follow Paul Giamatti’s Harvey Pekar journey through life and the creation of the American Splendor comics, which are, in effect, his ongoing autobiography, an endeavour complicated somewhat by the real Harvey Pekar passing commentary on what’s happening at various points.

Pekar was born and raised on the mean streets of Cleveland, and is about as close to the everyman as you can imagine. In the main, we join him after a couple of failed marriages and a long stint as a file clerk, which might be described as a dead end job in the main because Pekar himself isn’t looking to progress.

He’s a firm believer in the potential of comic books, still seen as kids territory back in the mid seventies, but after pitching an autobiographical work to his old friend Robert Crumb, underground artist behind Fritz the Cat, he starts writing what became a critically acclaimed, if not hugely commercially successful series of comics, which in the fullness of time leads him to his next wife, Hope Davis’ Joyce Brabner.

I’m not sure much more of a recap is required – it’s the self described story of Pekar, and the plucked from real life supporting cast of his comics, and, well, his life. And it’s fascinating, in part because Paul Giamatti and Hope Davis are excellent, but ultimately because the cantankerous old man act of Pekar is hugely interesting and captivating. Not that he’s 100% sympathetic – who is – but the unvarnished, rough edges of his character, and his work, is what makes it special, and so also what makes this film special.

Aside from being a terrifically enjoyable film, which is surely enough recommendation by itself, it’s also a really good argument for the medium being appropriate to tell a greater message, and that some real human emotion can be conveyed in the funny papers. I enjoyed this greatly on release and I must admit I’ve not thought about it much in the intervening 17 years, which meant that I pretty much got to rediscover how excellent it was all over again. Y’all should do the same.