American Splendor

Finally got around to seeing American Splendor last night. Very good. If I’m ever feeling down about my own life, I can console myself with the thought “at least I’m not Harvey Pekar.” That sounds mean, but come on–a file clerk who says “every day’s a struggle” is automatically pathetic and self-involved.

Despite the aggressively mundane quality of Pekar’s world, and his almost complete inability to find any joy in it at all, the movie’s funny. The little observations within the movie are funny, and the wacky metafiction mashups are funny: the real Harvey Pekar provides voiceover, and occasionally the scene shifts to a white space, cluttered with some of the set dressing from the previous scene, with the Real Harvey giving some insight on what’s going on. This might sound annoying, but it is necessary, if for no other reason than Toby. Toby is one of Harvey’s coworkers depicted in the story, and he is such an oddball character that one would be forced to conclude that his depiction, if not the person himself, was fictionalized. But eventually we cut to the Real Toby, and that’s exactly what he’s like, and we realize fiction is hard-pressed to keep up with truth for strangeness. In that shot, we see Real Harvey talking with Real Toby, as Paul Giamatti (portraying Harvey) and Judah Friedlander (portraying Toby) sit on folding chairs in the background. That’s meta.

Paul Giamatti wears a scowl through the whole movie that’s constantly on the verge of a grimace. He probably had to do face-yoga at the end of every day of shooting. The shots of Pekar himself today show that he’s mellowed a little bit with age, and he occasionally breaks into a smile.

Ideal double-feature companion to this movie: Ghost World. Both are comics-inspired, and Harvey Pekar seems to have been the inspiration for Seymour in Ghost World.