Wednesday, February 18, 2009

"American Splendor" (2003) - Movie Classics

Have you ever paused a movie because you are laughing so hard that you fear of missing at least five minutes of the next part of it? I have not, until I saw “American Splendor”. An year shying away from a very close comparison to “Adaptation.”, this is one of the most unbelievably funny movie I have ever seen in my life so far. Charlie Kauffman wrote himself in his script with fiction, reality and creativity like no other in “Adaptation.”. “American Splendor” is from a man claiming himself as the nobody is actually more than that tells his story from the years starting the day he begins to kick start his life, in his own gloomy way of course. This is Harvey Pekar.

See that I did not cite the actor who played him in braces. Because it needs some explanation. The film is about the life of the Harvey Pekar, a living man and he narrates the story. It educates on how he got himself into the world of comics and how it got himself to put him in it. He becomes a character in his comic book which he only pens and gets the help of other artists to draw him. Hence he becomes different faces of the same character on how each of the artist see him. Some do dignifying look, others gross him out as hairy and disgusting being and another draws him as it is. Everything is a little part of him as it would be of any of ourselves. We will be watching his life spanning from his youth till middle age laughing for the most part and then beginning to empathize. Before we know, we see a more profound and in depth commentary of an ordinary life magnified by the people outside but Harvey living and acknowledging the hole he came up and dealing the events bigger than that with what it is, temporary and providing.

Paul Giamatti plays the movie version of Harvey Pekar. The film cuts few scenes with the real life characters and put the comic graphics with the story. We see a blend of everything. A comic book, documentary, reality and the whole thing is a morphed reality of fiction from the memories of a man. This is not an experiment film but a film of true integrity adapting the comic book and events of actuality. A man so full of dreary, despair and floats in a vacuous state of cheerless clouds. We see him losing his voice and his doctor asking him to stop yelling as the suggestion for cure. He could not as his second marriage goes to drain and he cannot do anything about it, not even shout on anger and to plead.

He works as a file clerk in a VA Hospital in the city of Cleveland. He does not give a damn and burns internally of the criticism of the America around him. Not in the outcast speech way but how it affects him in his regular day of work. The monotony and his complete inability to make something out of the ordinary. His failure becoming the only better part of his existence. A job to hate but institutionalized in it and the stretched time of loneliness seeping into his thick sin and is almost there to tear the elongated slowness of his routine. This frustration blooms into a reality TV narration only a lot more original, better and honest to begin his comic book career. The film becomes the same and invents itself through brilliant castings and acting with a daring direction from Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini.

But being funny is from the happenings around a normal man. He is more clearer than any one of his sunken living and has that clarity of thought to put it across of his day’s overhearings, encounters and experience into words which triggered the comic into the film that work precisely for the same. It is not boasting but bluntly truthful. It does not act smart but wonders how complicated, chaotic the day can be with people of every day dumbness.

Harvey despite his popularity in comic book continues without of course ever quitting the file clerk job but one fine day he is teased of being with a woman when he meets his old school mate Alice (Maggie Moore). And suddenly a film so funny turns for a few minutes into the sadness and pain of a being in the city walking alone in the streets empty. He sees that gap as a writer losing himself in lost for words seeing a blank white page. Then it springs back and we see a comic geek in a far away place at Denver getting irritated by her life giving tough time. She is annoyed because she missed reading the latest comic book edition of “American Splendor”. That is Hope Davis portraying Joyce Brabner. We do not identify her as the love interest of Harvey not because of Hope Davis but because of the immediacy we come to realize how similar and perfect her agony and cribbing coincides with our main man.

“American Splendor” blew me away, completely on my back, flat and plain, wondering aloud looking right up on the false ceiling upwards. Every one identifies with Harvey not because of the dreaded term of every man but of the turmoil of self esteem, low confidence and the tough life every one goes through even in the most financially proliferous job. It differs in the environment but the feeling is mutual. But it is also due to the character Harvey Pekar himself and Paul Giamatti nailing it. It is difficult to imagine but being on the same set as some one whom you are portraying is a tough gig and mainly to share the time on the screen. It is slightly made easy by an immaculate screenplay by the directors and of course Pekar and Joyce themselves.

It is weird that what Pekar did is a form of trashy reality TV. But what is the difference of this autobiography and the crappy TV show? It is the daunting honesty of saying what it is without any speck of manipulation, over dramatization or made up insanity. Most of us passionate about something see the life of us through it. Our stories written in books, our successes coming up as a character in a play or the submerged secrecy of passion in paintings and the songs which takes the otherwise mute day into something special. In music, books, paintings and theatre, it adds the beauty of the missing colour in the regularity of the day. I see that in films. What do you see?

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