American Splendor

NO. 4 on my 10-best list last year, Splendor was a hit at Sundance, a hit at Cannes, and a hit at SIFF (the latter being no surprise, considering this town's love of all things comic book–related). Yet the ingeniously hybridized docu-biopic about the life and times of underground cartoonist Harvey Pekar failed to catch on at the multiplex. Having earned a paltry $6 million, and a paltry single Oscar nomination (for adapted script), here's a film that truly deserves a second life on DVD (it's out Feb. 3). The living-room couch is perhaps the better place to appreciate its intimate, low-key depiction of a Cleveland working stiff's frustrations, ruminations, and late-life blossoming as a contented family man.

Co-directors Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman sit in on the big, shared commentary track, one of the single-disc set's very few extras. They're joined by, among others, Pekar, his wife Joyce Brabner, and actor Paul Giamatti—who's been criminally neglected during the awards season for his genius-level warts-and-all take on Pekar. (Brabner confesses that she and their adopted daughter mistook Giamatti's voice for Pekar's, so accurate was his characterization.) The revelation here may be Pekar's fellow file clerk, über-nerd Toby Radloff, who keeps things moving by asking all kinds of direct, sensible questions. Pekar usually responds with a tired, "I dunno," except when discussing the soundtrack. It's nice to hear more from Brabner, who says of their marriage, "It's either high drama or deadpan—with an emphasis on the dead."

The other paltry extras consist of an HBO featurette following Pekar and Brabner along the festival circuit, and a song omitted from the soundtrack CD, Eytan Mirsky's "American Splendor"—which is played over a still from the film; apparently, they couldn't even afford a music video! Frills aside, however, the movie rewards repeated viewing, like a favorite, well-thumbed comic book.

DISCS ARRIVING Feb. 10 include the true-life porno murder tale Wonderland (with Val Kilmer); the Coen brothers' Intolerable Cruelty; Gwyneth in Sylvia; Once Upon a Time in the Midlands (with Robert Carlyle and Rhys Ifans); and In the Cut—in two versions: the theatrical and the extra-naughty, which presumably features more of Meg Ryan and Mark Ruffalo. BRIAN MILLER

bmiller@seattleweekly.com

 
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