American Splendor Movie Poster Image

American Splendor

Earthy, gritty and real; for older kids.
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2003
  • Running Time: 101 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages
Not applicable

Illness and unhappiness.


Some sexual references and inexplicit sexual situations.


Some strong language.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

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.

Kids say

Not yet rated
Review this title!

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.

Families can talk 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

Theatrical release date:August 15, 2003
DVD/Streaming release date:February 2, 2004
Cast:Hope Davis, Josh Hutcherson, Paul Giamatti
Director:Shari Springer Berman
Studio:Fine Line Features
Run time:101 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:language

This review of American Splendor was written by

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

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

Great handpicked alternatives

  • Sideways Movie Poster Image
    Excellent but explicit movie is not for kids.
  • Adaptation Movie Poster Image
    Adult stuff only but hilarious and fresh.
  • Annie Hall Movie Poster Image
    Classic comedy about relationships has mature themes.

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

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 a junior high locker room), but apparently movies dealing with manic depressives and testicular cancer get branded with an R. Fascinating film about comic book icon Harvey Pekar who lives an unsual life and becomes an anti-hero to the alternative comic crowd. The narrative is mostly linear, but with frequent interruptions in the story by Mr. Pekar himself commenting on the action. Well worth anyone's time; the focus is on his life, not his comic books.
Adult Written byElsever January 19, 2016
The film not since 2004. 2003
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models