Harvey Pekar is the last guy in the world you'd think Hollywood would want to make a biopic about. He's a balding grump with a raspy voice, who spent his whole life working as a file clerk in a VA Hospital in Cleveland. Oh yeah, he also appeared on THE DAVID LETTERMAN SHOW a dozen or so times. Why you may ask? In his spare time, he wrote an underground comic book, which dealt with his day-to-day life.
In the beginning, the drawings for the comic were done by Robert Crumb, the legendary underground comic book artist (to learn more about him watch the amazing documentary on his life and family entitled CRUMB). SPLENDOR is hilarious. I laughed so loud in the theater I was embarrassing my wife. The humor of the film is rooted in the neurosis of the characters. Harvey is pathetic, but down deep he's smart and has a warm loving soul.
Paul Giamatti's (PRIVATE PARTS) performance is simply amazing. He becomes Pekar perfectly. I know this, because Pekar appears in the film as the narrator and in video clips from LETTERMAN. In addition to Giamatti's Oscar worthy performance, Hope Davis (MUMFORD) plays Pekar's third wife, Joyce, who has a PHD but barely works and is a major hypochondriac. The real Joyce makes an appearance and Davis nails her perfectly too. Then there is Toby Radloff, played by Judah Friedlander (ZOOLANDER), who is the self-proclaimed king of nerds. When you first meet him, you think that Friedlander was going for effect and that his performance is way over the top. But in the next scene, we meet the real Toby Radloff and discover that Friedlander is an amazing performer.
This cast of characters is a collection of misfits, but you can identify with them instantly because they are just extreme versions of us all. The style of the film as well is very original. The film's opening titles are like the panels in a comic. Throughout the film animated versions of Harvey pop up from time to time. The live-action Harvey even walks into the comic book world. Harvey may be a depressive guy, but he's witty and perceptive. And he loves his wife and daughter (which is a strange story you'll have to see the film to discover).
The film is about life without pretence. We fall in and out of good and bad things as we fight against the tide of fate. It depresses Harvey, but he soldiers through like we all do. He makes us all seem like superheroes. That's why even though the hero of the film is depressed the film is uplifting to watch. One of the best films I've seen so far this year.
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CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND (2002) (***1/2)