American Splendor

We saw this last Friday. I figured I would enjoy it, being a long time fan of the series and with such universally good reviews. My only real concern was whether I could table my dislike of Paul Giamatti. I was pleasantly surprised. I found that he is much less annoying while playing an explicitly annoying character than the “lovable” schlubs he specializes in. I thought Hope Davis did a particularly fine job as Joyce Brabner, and James Urbaniak as Robert Crumb captured his weird detachment quite well.

I think I was less taken with the conceit of having the real Pekar in the movie than most. While I appreciated the theme of the multiple representations (made very explicit when Joyce wonders which artists’ rendition Harvey will look most like), in a lot of ways having the real Harvey in there weakened the fictional parts for me. The scene where Harvey and Toby are talking about jelly beans while the actors sit behind them was an example – I couldn’t forget that I found the two real guys talking about nothing more engaging than the actors performing a script. When the voiceover mentions about Crumb “Oh, he had a movie made about him” I was thinking that I might rather see 100 minutes of a Harvey documentary rather than the psuedo-fictional narrative.

All in all, I liked the film and thought it was worthy of the very good body of source material. I might be slightly less taken than the average reviewer, but I would still recommend it highly. I honestly hope that some of the audience will pick up the graphic novel collections. It’s good stuff.