I must confess that I'm not much of a lover of comic books. Sure, I'll read them, but not to the extent of following a story from one week to the next. However, American Splendor isn't really about comics - sure, it's about a comic book author, and includes references to comics and even has a few CGI sequences - but otherwise, this is about love, compassion, hard times, easy times and the unrequited love of the individual.
American Splendor is the tale of Harvey Pekar, a social misfit who spends his days collecting thousands of books and records, and scouring thrift stores and garage sales to increase this collection. It's at one of these sales he meets fellow enthusiast Robert Crumb, later to find fame as an underground comic book artist.
Inspired by Crumb's success, Pekar writes his own brand of comic book, an unsentimental portrayal of working class life. The success of his book turns Pekar into a cult celebrity, becoming a regular guest on David Letterman's TV show - a relationship that was to turn sour when Pekar realised that Letterman was laughing at him, rather than with him.
At various times, we see a film of Pekar's life, the real Harvey Pekar and the real life versions of the other characters who inhabit Pekar's universe. It's a challenging formula and strengthens the bond that the viewer has with the characters. It's perhaps one of the few times where a film is said to be "based on a true story" that you are allowed to actually believe it.
Paul Giamatti, as Pekar, deserves to win every award going, and the rest of the cast is equally outstanding. The film could do with a tiny bit of a polish regarding one or two elements of the structure and pacing, but as it is Splendor is one of the greatest, touching and most beautiful films I have seen in a long time.