American Splendor

Movie review by
Nell Minow, Common Sense Media
American Splendor Movie Poster Image
Earthy, gritty and real; for older kids.
  • R
  • 2003
  • 101 minutes

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 1 review

Did we miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Illness and unhappiness.


Some sexual references and inexplicit sexual situations.


Some strong language.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this movie's rating is based on language. There are some sexual references and inexplicit sexual situations. Some viewers may find the unhappiness and dysfunction in the movie disturbing.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byElsever January 19, 2016
The film not since 2004. 2003
Adult Written byZotdragon April 9, 2008

Excellent bio-pic.

Once again the MPAA gets it wrong. No nudity, no violence (one short scene of Harvey smashing items in his apartment), some harsh language (nothing not heard in... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byGabrielHarville May 21, 2019

A Great Film for the Intellectual Kids

This film is honestly one of my favorite of all time, and the only reason it's rated R is due to the use of a few F-bombs. The themes in this film, while d... Continue reading

What's the story?

Harvey Pekar (Paul Giamatti) is a file clerk in a veteran's hospital who writes about his monotonous life in comic books. He lives in the most ordinary of apartments -- dank, drab and cluttered. He has the most ordinary of frustrations -- a woman in front of him at the grocery store's check-out counter takes too long, a look in the mirror provides "a reliable disappointment." He faces the most minor and the most severe obstacles and problems with the same grumpy pessimism. Yet Pekar recognizes the complexity of ordinary life. His insights and artistic sensibilities do not translate into a capacity for tolerance or intimacy, though. Pekar is selfish and insensitive. He does not want to be alone but he is too unpleasant and petty to live with anyone else, until Joyce Brabner (Hope Davis), a fan who impulsively decides to marry him after a disastrous first date, turns out to be his ideal life companion. Like Pekar, she is relentlessly honest about her own quirks, shortcomings, and pathologies and those of others.

Is it any good?

The characters in AMERICAN SPLENDOR are so weird and their lifestyles are so odd that it is sometimes difficult to tell whether they are real people or cartoon characters. The movie brilliantly plays upon this, switching fluidly from comic book drawings to actors, to actual footage of the real people involved, then back again. The real-life characters appear as a sort of Greek chorus to comment on the story and on the movie itself. The real Pekar is, of course, reliably disappointed. Footage of Pekar's appearances on the David Letterman show is spliced cleverly with surrounding scenes in which actors depict the events leading up to and following the show.

Pekar shows us that when you look closely enough, there is drama even in the uneventful life of a file clerk. Pekar rails against his loneliness, or talks about the sweetness of life in a way that shows he is not all that different from the rest of us. He raises himself from squalor by teaming up with a friend, the famous artist R. Crumb, to produce a whole new type of comic book. He has life-threatening medical problems that require him to confront his own mortality. And in his own way, he loves, deeply. The overall effect of the movie is not one of slapstick but of earthy, gritty reality. Davis and Giamatti are brave, funny, heartbreaking, and simply magnificent. So are the real Brabner and Pekar.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why such an intelligent and perceptive man created this kind of life for himself. What was it that appealed to him about the file clerk job? Why did he confront David Letterman? What makes Pekar happy?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love dramatic comedies

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

Streaming options powered by JustWatch

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality.

Learn how we rate