Last night, I saw AMERICAN SPLENDOR. The movie is getting the ravest reviews of any flick out there. Critics are falling over themselves discussing the delightfully mundane subject matter, the clever mix of live-action and comic book styles, the acting work of Paul Giamatti and Hope Davis.
Now, it is a good flick. Not a great one, but a good one. And there are definitely some clever interweavings of the fictionalized Harvey Pekar with video of the real deal. And the acting compels, as does the film’s willingness to bask in the mundane.
But it’s not the savior of cinema that some seem to have made it out to be. I suspect that critics are falling over themselves praising it largely because it is different from the standard fare, even the standard indie fare. Sadly, narrative film has been stuck in “realism” , an attempt to not mess with the audiences’ suspension of disbelief by giving them nothing to suggest that they’re just watching a movie. Even fantasy films are mired in realism, doing everything they can to make you think that what is happening on the screen is “really” happening for the characters.
Not that there’s anything wrong with realism, but it’s only one method of presentation. AMERICAN SPLENDOR mixes realist cinema with comic book imagery that helps us get inside the actors’ heads, and then with documentary footage of Harvey, his wife Joyce, and his friend Toby. And it should be applauded for such juxtapositions, though it’s hardly revolutionary.
Perhaps this film will succeed, and encourage other filmmakers to break free from the constraints of mimicing reality, and exploit the medium of film for its potential for expression in a variety of forms, be it realism, documentary, surrealism, allegory, whathaveyou. Maybe the burgeoning digital video movement can encourage such experimentation (though I fear it will largely be for the sake of navelgazing, but that’s another matter. I don’t know why I’m so crotchety tonight.)
Anyway, see the film, and enjoy it.