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American Splendor is a 2003 American biographical comedy-drama film about Harvey Pekar, the author of the American Splendor comic book series. The film is also in part an adaptation of the comics, which dramatize Pekar's life. The film was written and directed by documentarians Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini.[3]

American Splendor
American Splendor film.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byShari Springer Berman
Robert Pulcini
Produced byTed Hope
Christine Kunewa Walker
Julia King
Declan Baldwin
Written byShari Springer Berman
Robert Pulcini
Based onAmerican Splendor and Our Cancer Year
by Harvey Pekar
Joyce Brabner
StarringPaul Giamatti
Hope Davis
Judah Friedlander
Music byMark Suozzo
CinematographyTerry Stacey
Edited byRobert Pulcini
Distributed byFine Line Features
HBO Films
Release date
  • January 20, 2003 (2003-01-20) (Sundance)
  • August 15, 2003 (2003-08-15) (United States)
Running time
101 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$2 million
Box office$7,986,084[2]

The film stars Paul Giamatti as Pekar and Hope Davis as Joyce Brabner.[3] It also features appearances from Pekar and Brabner themselves (along with Toby Radloff),[3] who discuss their lives, the comic books, and how it feels to be depicted onscreen by actors. It was filmed entirely on location in Cleveland and Lakewood in Ohio.[4]




Though Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini had directed documentaries before, American Splendor was their first narrative feature. Of the film's alternating of fictional portrayals with real-life appearances by Pekar and his friends and family, co-writer/co-director Pulcini recalled, "It really was the only way that made sense to tell that story because we were handed this stack of comic strips where the main character never really looks the same because he’s drawn by so many different artists. We wondered how to stay true to the material, and that’s the concept we came up with. The structure came out of that very naturally. It wasn’t something that we labored over."[5] Berman added that upon meeting Pekar they felt compelled to include him in the film. "We also got to know Harvey even before we wrote the screenplay. We actually went to Cleveland and spent time with Harvey and Joyce, and spoke to them on the phone a lot. Once we spent some time with both of them, we were like, “Oh my God, we have to put them in the movie!” That was a case where we were still using our documentary instincts and had to figure out a way to include him in it that was a natural fit for the material."[5]

At one point, Pekar meta-references the structure of the film by doing a voice-over for a one-shot of Paul Giamatti playing him by saying "There's our guy. Well, it's me. Or the guy playing me. Though he don't look nothing like me, but whatever." (Pekar and Brabner had been approached previously by actors interested in playing Pekar on film, including Rob Schneider.)[6]

David Letterman refused to appear in the film, and his old network of NBC did not allow the filmmakers to use footage of Pekar's disastrous fourth and sixth appearances on Late Night (aired July 31, 1987 and August 31, 1988, respectively), though they had no problems with the other Pekar appearances that are shown in the film.[7] The supposed "final appearance" was done using oblique camera angles and a voiced-over audio of the incident.[8] (In actuality, Pekar returned for two more appearances in 1993 & 1994.)[7]


Mark Suozzo wrote the film's score.

Music played in the film mostly reflects Pekar's affection for avant-garde jazz and American music from the 1920s and 1930s. A couple of songs by American Splendor illustrator Robert Crumb and his band are also featured.

The American Splendor (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) was released by New Line Records in 2003, and featured the following songs:[9]

  1. "Paniots Nine" — Joe Maneri
  2. "Blue Devil Jump" — Jay McShann
  3. "Chasin' Rainbows" — R. Crumb & His Cheap Suit Serenaders
  4. "On the Sunny Side of the Street" — Lester Young with the Oscar Peterson Trio
  5. "Oh, Lady Be Good!" — Dizzy Gillespie
  6. "Ain't That Peculiar" — Marvin Gaye
  7. "Looking Suite: The Shortest Weekend / After Alice (So Sweet, So Sad)" — Mark Suozzo/Global Stage Orchestra
  8. "Stardust" — Dizzy Gillespie
  9. "Hula Medley" — R. Crumb & His Cheap Suit Serenaders
  10. "T'aint Nobody's Bizness If I Do" — Jay McShann
  11. "My Favorite Things" — John Coltrane
  12. "Time Passes Strangely: Cancer Treatment / Retirement Party" — Mark Suozzo
  13. "Ain't That Peculiar" — Chocolate Genius

The following songs are also played — in whole, or in part — during the film:


On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 94% approval rating, based on 186 reviews, with an average rating of 8.29/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Exhilarating both stylistically and for its entertaining, moving portrayal of an everyman, American Splendor is a portrait of a true underground original."[10] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 90 out of 100, based on 42 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim."[11]

American Splendor won the Grand Jury Prize for Dramatic Film at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival, in addition to the award for Best Adapted Screenplay from the Writers Guild of America. At the 2003 Cannes Film Festival, the film received the FIPRESCI critics award.[12] It was also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay at the 2003 Academy Awards.

Columnist Jaime Wolf wrote a laudatory review of the film in Slate, also drawing attention to formal parallels with Woody Allen's Annie Hall and other Allen films.[13]

Pekar wrote about the effects of the film in various stories published in American Splendor: Our Movie Year (Ballantine Books, 2004).[14]

Awards and nominationsEdit


Boston Society of Film Critics

  • Best Screenplay (Pulcini and Springer Berman)

Chicago Film Critics Association

  • Most Promising Filmmaker (Pulcini and Springer Berman)

Los Angeles Film Critics Association

National Society of Film Critics[15]

New York Film Critics Circle

  • Best Actress (Davis)
  • Best First Film

Sundance Film Festival

Writers Guild of America (WGA)


Academy Awards

Belgian Syndicate of Cinema Critics

Chicago Film Critics Association

  • Best Actor (Giamatti)
  • Best Actress (Davis)
  • Best Film
  • Best Screenplay (Pulcini and Springer Berman)

Golden Globe Awards

Satellite Awards

  • Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy (Giamatti)
  • Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy (Davis)
  • Best Director (Pulcini and Springer Berman)
  • Best Film – Musical or Comedy
  • Best Screenplay – Adapted (Pulcini and Springer Berman)


  1. ^ "AMERICAN SPLENDOR". Optimum Releasing. British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved January 2, 2018.
  2. ^ American Splendor at Box Office Mojo
  3. ^ a b c Mitchell, Elvis (August 15, 2003). "FILM REVIEW; A Comics Guy, Outside the Box". The New York Times. Retrieved January 2, 2018.
  4. ^ American Splendor on IMDb
  5. ^ a b McKittrick, Christopher (August 10, 2015). "Follow the Book's Lead: Berman and Pulcini on Ten Thousand Saints". Creative Screenwriting. Retrieved January 2, 2018.
  6. ^ Morrow, Fiona. "Harvey Pekar and Joyce Brabner: The party poopers," The Independent (13 January 2004).
  7. ^ a b "The Story Behind Harvey Pekar’s Infamous Last Letterman Interview," Accessed July 21, 2019.
  9. ^ "Various – American Splendor (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)," Discogs. Accessed June 14, 2019.
  10. ^ American Splendor at Rotten Tomatoes
  11. ^ American Splendor at Metacritic
  12. ^ "FIPRESCI - Awards: 2003". Retrieved January 2, 2018.
  13. ^ Wolf, Jaime (September 24, 2003). "Harvey, Meet Woody: American Splendor vs. Annie Hall". Slate. Retrieved January 2, 2018.
  14. ^ Pekar, Harvey, and various illustrators. American Splendor: Our Movie Year (Ballantine Books, 2004) ISBN 0-345-47937-8
  15. ^ King, Susan. "Critics Group Names 'American Splendor' Top Film: The National Society of Film Critics also honors Bill Murray and Charlize Theron as best actors and Clint Eastwood as best director of 2003," Los Angeles Times (January 4, 2004).

External linksEdit

Preceded by
Personal Velocity
Sundance Grand Jury Prize: U.S. Dramatic
Succeeded by