American Splendor [2003]

One of the most acclaimed films of 2003, American Splendor is also one of the most audaciously creative biographical movies ever made. Blending fact, fiction, and personal perspective from the comic books that inspired it, this marvelous portrait of Harvey Pekar--scowling curmudgeon, brow-beaten everyman, insightful chronicler of his own life, and frustrated file clerk at a Cleveland V.A. hospital--is an inspired amalgam of the media (comic books, TV, and film) that lifted Pekar from obscurity to the status of a pop-cultural icon. As played by Paul Giamatti in a master-stroke of casting, we see Pekar and his understanding wife (played by Hope Davis) as underdogs in a world full of obstacles, yet also infused with subtle hope and (gasp!) heartwarming perseverance. We also see the real Pekar, and this multifaceted commingling of "reel" and "real" turns American Splendor into a uniquely cinematic celebration of Pekar's life and, by extension, the tenacity of an unlikely American hero. --Jeff Shannon

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