American Splendor (4)

 Copyright © 2003 by Tony Medley


There is, in the literature of the job interview (which I must modestly admit I created with my second book, Sweaty Palms: The Neglected Art of Being Interviewed, in 1978) something called the “halo effect.”  The “halo effect” is the undue influence of an irrelevant trait on your overall judgment.  This came into effect at the screening of American Splendor.  There was a woman sitting behind me who laughed at every line in the movie.  But it wasn’t the kind of guffaw you make when listening to Billy Crystal or Richard Pryor or Robin Williams or someone who is actually funny.  It was the annoying kind of laugh of an ignoramus who is trying to let everyone around him/her think that the laugher was in on something inside.  It was the kind of laugh that takes the place of a statement like, “oh, isn’t that just like him!” as if she had an intimate relationship with the person, causing her to “laugh.”  Try sitting in a movie and have a character say, “pass the mustard, please” and have someone laugh.  Then the character says, “What time is it?’ and the same person laughs.  Annoying?  It’s much worse than that.


Fortunately, I’m not only in the process of becoming an adult, but I know about the “halo effect,” so it shouldn’t cloud my judgment of this movie.  When I’d hear her laugh every minute, I’d say to myself, “don’t let this influence your judgment of this movie.”


Alas, it didn’t.  American Splendor is a grainy depiction of Harvey Pekar (Paul Giamatti), who penned a comic book based on his life in the ‘70s.  It’s cleverly done in that actual interviews with the real Pekar are interspersed throughout the film, so it’s part biography, part documentary.


Maybe this would be more enjoyable if you’ve ever heard of American Splendor or Harvey Pekar.  I hadn’t, so I found myself wondering why Pekar was important enough to be the subject of a feature film.  Pekar is pictured as a disgruntled, unhappy guy with an intellectual bent who worked his entire life as a clerk at a Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Cleveland.  Despite this, the reputation he built through American Splendor got him several appearances on the David Letterman Show, and some other radio appearances, so he was a sort of minor celebrity.


I can’t say that the film is terrible.  It has its amusing moments.  But at 100 minutes it’s far too long.  Giamatti bears a remarkable resemblance to the real Pekar and he does a very good job in the role. Despite this, I found it pretty uninvolving.  But the lady behind me laughed at every line.  Maybe she should have written this review because she obviously saw something in the film that I didn’t.


July 10, 2003


The End