American Splendor

Institute History

  • 2003 Sundance Film Festival


American Splendor is an undeniably unique and thoroughly entertaining movie that follows the life and times of Harvey Pekar, a true American anti-hero.

For the most part, Pekar's life is unexceptional and depressing. He seems destined for nothing better than his menial position at the VA Hospital in his hometown of Cleveland. He struggles daily to enrich his life by filling his free time with reading, writing, listening to jazz, and engaging in cerebral banter. When his buddy Robert Crumb earns wide acclaim for comic art, Harvey is inspired to write his own brand of comic books, and he makes the monotonous torture of his everyday foibles their focus. American Splendor is hugely successful, but Harvey still finds his life lacking. Enter the equally depressive Joyce Brabner, and united in co-dependence, the pair tackles life together.

Filmmaker team Shari Springer and Robert Pulcini blow up all rules of the biopic and find just the right cinematic voice for their subject. Using film, video and animation, they ingeniously construct a structure in which images of the real life Pekar are intercut with that of his on-screen persona, flawlessly recreated by Paul Giamatti. The result is seamless, effective and undeniably unique. The animated sequences, like comics, add spunk and spontaneity. A film undertaking of this nature takes guts and skill, and this filmmaking team has both. As with Pekar's own creation, they have on their hand a truly one-of-a-kind creation.

— John Cooper

Screening Details

Sundance Film Festival Awards

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