American Splendor The Movie | By Allen Ribo

The movie American Splendor is a 2003 Independent film starring Paul Giamatti as Harvey Pekar and Hope Davis as Joyce Brabner. The movie is an adaptation of the book, Our Cancer Year, which told the tale of Pekar’s enduring marriage and his struggles with cancer. The movie begins with a look into the genesis of friendship with Robert Crumb, his habit for indifference to the popular or aesthetically pleasing (HALLOWEEN: “And what are you dear?” “I’m Harvey Pekar”). Other points in the beginning of the film focused on his day job as filing clerk for a hospital, his impatience for old Jewish women, as well as his coming to terms with divorce. From this point, the film mainly focuses on Joyce and Harvey, from their date at a Cleveland diner, to the eventual marriage and the tests that challenged them in their relationship. The heart of the film or the spirit of the comics can be seen when Joyce and Harvey constantly argue about making ends meet (Harvey:” I have a job writing and you’re not doing anything!”), to their conflict of interest as Harvey gains an interview opportunity from the David Letterman show (Joyce: “I have to save these kids, doesn’t it mean anything to you?”). Their relationship rebounds as Joyce discovers that Harvey has cancer and is motivated to see his recovery. For the majority of the film, the phrase misery loves it company is a constant theme ; Harvey bemoans about his problems, has a cynical view of life, and blames Joyce as the source of it all. The cancer changed his perspective, allowing him to think about the one wish Joyce had that he denounced: family. The addition of an orphaned daughter, Danielle allowed him to find priority in his ‘chaos’ and make the best of it. At the end of the film is a recreated staff party featuring the actual creator, his family, and his co-workers.

During pre-production actress Hope Davis felt a tremendous pressure to capture the likeness of Joyce Brabner, so much that whenever she was closely watching her, she was immensely terrified. Brabner was asked by the director to leave the set and did not see development until the film was completed. Harvey on the other hand was bored watching the process but he did not comment on Giamatti and his portrayal of the character. As Harvey said, “They look like a better version of us”. The film guaranteed Harvey numerous opportunities, a second volume of American Splendor published by Vertigo Comics, subsequent graphic novels published and an opera jazz play.


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