Mar. 14, 2012 - Issue #856: FAVA
Tue, Mar 20 (9:15 pm) Metro Cinema at the Garneau
The 2003 drama-documentary plays with comic-book frames and speech/thought balloons (and less showily than Ang Lee did the same year in Hulk). Breaking up stretches of narrative re-enacted by Paul Giamatti (as Pekar) and Hope Davis (as his wife Joyce), Pekar himself appears in white space, the panel of his little world becoming filled with props and people. The approach perfectly suits a man whose life and art were as entwined as a double-helix; American Splendor channels Pekar's vision of art and life as twinned struggles.
The Jewish Pekar is a Middle-America, working-stiff schlub counterpart to Woody Allen, that neurotic, middle-class intellectual Manhattanite. Allen's inwardly anxious; Pekar's bummed out. From grumpy glower to disgruntled slump, Giamatti physically embodies his introspective comics' downbeat, wryly humorous outlook. "Takin' the bus saves time, but it don't lengthen yer life," he muses morosely; while looking in the mirror, he remarks, "now there's a predictable disappointment."
His personal lookin'-down-at-the-cracks-in-the-sidewalk bleeds into little-guy-on-main-street politics. In the '80s, he sees corporations co-opting salt-of-the-earth types so, while grappling with a cancer diagnosis, he gets fed up with Letterman using him as comic relief and protests GE's control of NBC during one of his guest appearances.
One of cinema's great first-date sequences is here: guy tells girl he's had a vasectomy; she throws up after their "yuppie meal." They're surprised they like each other, since both are so resigned to disappointment. And Joyce had worried about which Harvey she'd meet, given his different images depending on his comic's illustrator.
We're splendidly shown how a lower-class nine-to-fiver has his own creative selves and richly expressive life. When Pekar's observing people at his file-clerk day job, catching the snippets of spoken poetry in others' prosaic routines, the film looks ahead to the best of today's blogs. Too bad most comic-book movies now aren't Pekar-esque at all but like the worst of the blogosphere: shouting, sniping and blasting-off without any recognizable human feeling or sense of life as "pretty complex stuff."
Vue respects your privacy. We will not forward your personal information to any other organization except as required by law, and will use your e-mail address only to respond to your comments. We reserve the right to edit and remove comments for length, clarity and/or if they are illegal or inappropriate. Your email address is never shown to visitors to vueweekly.com. Read the whole policy at: http://vueweekly.com/privacy