The Looniest Humanist Cartoonist

5 Aug 2013: American Splendor (DVD, 2003, Robert Pulcini/Shari Springer Berman)

A film about someone who works near the bottom of the employment class(te) system without serious aspirations to leave who yet is an artist with a rich life of friends and lovers in the circumstances he has – as if such people existed! Right there – given that the characters are well-drawn and well-acted – this film stands out, and it gets extra credibility from “undermining” its own narrative by interspersing documentary footage of the people – underground cartoonist Harvey Pekar and his friends and family – on whom the characters are based, along with some of the cartoons themselves. Contains more scathing social criticism, slight as it is, than most movies with recognizable actors these days, particularly in a short sequence with Pekar (Paul Giamatti, usually) standing up to David Letterman’s trademark condescension by questioning his corporate owners. The film on the whole rejects the typical mantras of success and glory, thereby exalting the viewers as much (if not more) than the characters.

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