F.I.L.M. of the Week (June 14, 2013)

14 06 2013

Looking for the ultimate counter-programming this summer?  Heaven knows Hollywood is giving us plenty of comic book films this summer, be it a new Iron Man or a rebooted Superman.  But while those films may feature a man of steel, they certainly don’t feature a man who’s real in the same way that comic book film “American Splendor” does.

Imagine a comic book adaptation where a Woody Allen type (only with even more self-loathing) was the superhero.  Well, Paul Giamatti’s Harvey Pekar is hardly super … or a hero.  He’s just a protagonist, the main character of his life trying to live to fight another day.  Writer/directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini find the herculean struggle in these everyday battles and draw them out in appropriately stylized ways.

Why “American Splendor” is my pick for “F.I.L.M. of the Week,” however, is not necessarily because it’s an alternative/indie comic book movie.  Make no mistake about it, this is no “Kick-Ass.”  Berman and Pulcini are incredibly dexterous filmmakers who find clever ways to blur conventional lines in cinema.  Their film is both documentary and narrative, both animated and live-action.

That’s right, the film toggles between different modes of storytelling.  If it sounds weird, it looks and feels just right.  In fact, I think it’s the only way “American Splendor” could have been adapted.  Conventional technique could never pin down such an unconventional person and character like Harvey Pekar.  The multi-pronged approach works on so many levels, all of which I won’t attempt to pin down in a brief review.

But while it experiments with the form in exciting ways, it never forgets what Harvey Pekar said so brilliantly through his “American Splendor” comics for years.  At the end of the day, it’s all about the story of life.  We all have to live it, and everyone has issues that make them want to scream.  “American Splendor,” with emotional potency to spare, makes Harvey’s journey a vivid and infinitely relatable one.  He’s the comic book protagonist we need (but probably don’t deserve).



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