American Splendor

2003

American Splendor

Critics Consensus

Exhilarating both stylistically and for its entertaining, moving portrayal of an everyman, American Splendor is a portrait of a true underground original.

94%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 186

86%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 44,542
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Movie Info

Harvey Pekar is file clerk at the local VA hospital. His interactions with his co-workers offer some relief from the monotony, and their discussions encompass everything from music to the decline of American culture to new flavors of jellybeans and life itself. At home, Harvey fills his days with reading, writing and listening to jazz. His apartment is filled with thousands of books and LPs, and he regularly scours Cleveland's thrift stores and garage sales for more, savoring the rare joy of a 25-cent find. It is at one of these junk sales that Harvey meets Robert Crumb, a greeting card artist and music enthusiast. When, years later, Crumb finds international success for his underground comics, the idea that comic books can be a valid art form for adults inspires Harvey to write his own brand of comic book. An admirer of naturalist writers like Theodore Dreiser, Harvey makes his "American Splendor" a truthful, unsentimental record of his working-class life, a warts-and-all self portrait. First published in 1976, the comic earns Harvey cult fame throughout the 1980s and eventually leads him to the sardonic Joyce Barber, a partner in a Delaware comic book store who end ups being Harvey's true soul mate as they experience the bizarre byproducts of Harvey's cult celebrity stature.

Cast

Paul Giamatti
as Harvey Pekar
Hope Davis
as Joyce Brabner
Judah Friedlander
as Toby Radloff
James Urbaniak
as Robert Crumb
Earl Billings
as Mr. Boats
Harvey Pekar
as Real Harvey
Joyce Brabner
as Real Joyce
Danielle Batone
as Real Danielle
Toby Radloff
as Real Toby
Chris Ambrose
as Superman
Donal Logue
as Stage Actor Harvey
Molly Shannon
as Stage Actor Joyce
Cameron Carter
as Green Lantern
Daniel Tay
as Young Harvey
Mary Faktor
as Housewife
Larry John Myers
as Throat Doctor
Sylvia Kauders
as Old Jewish Lady
Nick Baxter
as Mattress Guy No. 1
Allen Branstein
as Mattress Guy No. 2
Dick Prochaska
as WW II Patient
Robert Pulcini
as Bob the Director
Bianca A. Santos
as Counter Girl
Maggie Moore
as Alice Quinn
Amy K. Harmon
as Cheery Waitress
Eytan Mirsky
as Guitarist
Rob Grader
as Stage Manager
Terrence Sullivan
as Letterman Regular
Ebon Moss-Bachrach
as MTV Director
Jeff Peters
as Talk Show Host
Ola Creston
as PA No. 1
Robert J. Williams
as Cancer Doctor
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Critic Reviews for American Splendor

All Critics (186) | Top Critics (47) | Fresh (174) | Rotten (12)

  • I can't imagine how the filmmakers went about it, let alone pulled the whole thing off, but their film comes together in unpredictable and remarkably pleasurable ways.

    Apr 12, 2013 | Full Review…
  • The rare artist biopic that goes beyond the dull march of events and actually illuminates the creative process.

    Jul 14, 2010

    Scott Tobias

    AV Club
    Top Critic
  • A glorious rebuke to all this summer's recycled, effects-ridden, laboriously "fun" Hollywood disappointments piled along the wayside like so many crashed cars.

    Aug 18, 2008 | Full Review…

    David Ansen

    Newsweek
    Top Critic
  • We're constantly kept on our toes regarding issues of representation while Pekar's sour but indefatigible working-class skepticism carries us along.

    Apr 17, 2007 | Full Review…
  • Hugely enjoyable and very clever portrait of Harvey Pekar.

    Feb 9, 2006 | Full Review…

    Geoff Andrew

    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • It would be a mistake to regard American Splendor as an anthem for the common man. It is the uncommon that is being celebrated here.

    Aug 7, 2004

Audience Reviews for American Splendor

  • Sep 27, 2015
    American Splendor is quite the postmodern film. It's an interesting take on life from the POV of a normal eccentric man. The film itself is normal eccentric, neither straightforward nor weird. Those who enjoy aspects of postmodernism such as messiness and infinite regress will likely enjoy American Splendor. And, of course, Paul Giamatti is great in it.
    Robert B Super Reviewer
  • Jan 18, 2013
    An astoundingly unique biopic about Harvey Pekar, an underground comic book legend, American Splendor is a funny, moving, and thrillingly original take on one man's struggle-filled life. The movie plays out as almost a documentary, especially during the sequences in which the real people that the movie is about are on camera talking to the filmmakers. It adds a strange but welcome feeling of realism in an unusual way, and it helps you to understand the real people behind the story. Paul Giamatti does a typically spectacular job in the lead role of Harvey Pekar, and even through his more moody moments it's always easy to connect to Pekar's frustrations and disappointment. The script is absolutely fantastic, and there's one scene in particular that is near-perfect, in which Giamatti, as Pekar, is telling a story directly to the camera about the bizarre number of Harvey Pekars he found in the phone book and who they were. As an indie comedy, a bleak docudrama, or a lovingly-crafted biography of a troubled man, American Splendor is overwhelming in its originality and charm, and makes for an incredible movie with a wonderful story to tell.
    Joey S Super Reviewer
  • Dec 28, 2012
    American Spelendor is an amazing movie. I couldn't believe the filmmakers Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini actually used actors and their real life counterparts together during scenes and in a way I was kinda in a "whoa" moment because I hadn't seen that before. Overall the picture plays like a comic book, the picture is never boring, the performances are flawless espeically Hope Davis's performance who actually looked like Joyce Brabner back in the 1980's but really the film really goes to Harvey Pekar. Even though Pekar himself thought he would never amount to anything would actually became a comic book icon thanks to the success of his American Splendor comic books. Pekar even got to go to Cannes. Even for me I find that a major achievement.
    Brian R Super Reviewer
  • Mar 03, 2012
    'American Splendor'. What a brilliantly ambitious film, with its merging of documentary and adapted comic screenplay! Surely up there with the best comic book to film adaptations of all time. Harvey Pekar is a wonderfully rich character, and I kept watching it thinking of him as a blend of Art Spiegelman and Larry David; Paul Giamatti is perfectly cast.
    c0up   Super Reviewer

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