American Splendor (2003) Movie Script

Trick or treat.
Well, look at this.
All the superheroes on our porch.
Ain't that cute?
We got Superman here, and Batman...
and his sidekick Robin.
The Green Lantern.
And what about you, young man?
-What about what?
-Who are you supposed to be?
-l'm Harvey Pekar.
Harvey Pekar?
That doesn't sound like a superhero to me.
l ain't no superhero, lady.
l'm Just a kid
from the neighborhood, all right?
Forget this!
Why does everybody have to be so stupid?
Okay, this guy here, he's our man.
Okay, this guy here, he's our man.
All grown up and going nowhere.
Always a pretty scholarly cat.
He never got much of a formal education.
For the most part, he's lived
in shit neighborhoods, held shit jobs...
and is now knee-deep
into a disastrous second marriage.
So if you're the kind of person
looking for romance or escapism...
or some fantasy figure to save the day,
guess what?
-You got the wrong movie.
-That's great.
So now you got four takes. You ought
to be able to patch one together from there.
Right? Let's go to the next one, all right?
Hold on a second.
Do you want some water or something?
-No, l got lots of orange.
-Do you like orange soda?
Yeah, orange is all right.
All right, let's go to the next sequence.
Did you actually read the script?
No. A little bit.
just to check the construction.
You know, how the piece was constructed.
l didn't read it word for word.
Do you feel weird saying this stuff?
No, l don't feel weird saying it.
l don't know how long
my voice is going to hold out.
Doc, you gotta help me, man.
My old lady's dumping me
'cause l can't talk.
She says l'm a social embarrassment.
Now that she's got a PhD,
she's some hot-shit academic star...
and l'm nothing but a file clerk.
Me being a file clerk was fine when l was
signing the damn checks for tuition.
Harvey, stop talking, please, and open wide.
l started worrying
my voice would never come back.
Say ''Aah,'' Mr. Pekar.
lt's torture, l'm telling you.
What? ls it bad, Doc?
lt's not good.
lt's cancer.
First l got marital problems, and now
you're telling me l got throat cancer.
-For Christ's sake, man.
-Harvey, calm down, it's not cancer.
You have a nodule on your vocal cords,
probably from screaming and yelling.
lf you don't give it a rest,
you're gonna lose your voice completely.
Okay. But for how long?
-A few months.
-Hey, come on, what is this?
-Exactly what it looks like.
What do you mean?
You mean you're dumping me? For what?
This plebeian lifestyle...
Just isn't working for me anymore, okay?
l gotta get out of here before l kill myself.
just listen to what l have to say, okay?
Don't go.
l need you, baby.
Please don't go, okay?
Here's our man.
Yeah, all right, here's me.
Or the guy playing me anyway,
though he don't look nothing like me.
But whatever.
So it's a few months later, and I'm working
my flunky file clerk gig at the VA hospital.
My voice still ain't back yet.
Thank you, Harvey, dear.
Things seem like they can't get any worse.
Where the hell did she get that shit, man?
''Avoid the reeking herd
''Shun the polluted flock
''Live like that stoic bird
''The eagle of the rock''
-Hey, Mr. Boats.
-You know what that means, son?
Yeah, it's from an Elinor Hoyt Wylie poem.
lt means.... Excuse me.
lt means stay away from the crowds
of common, ordinary people...
-and do your own thing.
lt means don't compromise yourself
for women. lt ain't gonna do you no good.
Get away from them as soon as you can.
l ain't got no woman now.
-l'm living like the stoic bird, man.
-lt's the only way to live, son.
Look at that fool there.
Probably listening to that loud rock stuff.
junk, it's all Junk.
l don't know. l mean...
rock music's got some good qualities.
lt isn't Jazz or nothing, but you know....
Say, when are you gonna bring me in
some of those good records?
-Some Nat King Cole with strings.
-l don't got any of that, Mr. Boats.
Yeah, you got that.
You're keeping them at home, though.
You won't turn loose the good stuff.
You Just sell the Junk.
l keep the stuff l wanna keep.
l sold a lot of good material
by people that he didn't like.
Mr. Boats didn't like any blues
or anything like that.
He played classical violin.
l started record collecting
when l was 15 or 16 years old.
l started getting interested in Jazz.
Prior to that, l collected comic books.
l was always a collector.
I admit to having
an obsessive-compulsive quality in me.
It's like The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
or something.
You go to thrift shops
and you go to the garage sales...
because you think you're gonna find
something that's real rare.
And most of time, it's a total waste of time,
but once in a while...
you'll come up with something
that'll whet your appetite.
In the early '60s...
I was with some buddies at a junk sale,
looking for some choice sides...
when I met this shy, retiring cat
from philadelphia named Bob Crumb.
You know the guy.
Fritz the Cat, Mr. Natural and all.
They made a movie about him, too.
jay McShann.
Come on, Harv, you gonna buy that,
or what?
l don't know, Marty,
it's got a lamination crack.
A quarter.
Maybe l could talk it down.
-You are one cheap bastard, Harvey.
-l know l'm tight, man.
l live on a government wage.
You collect jay McShann, man?
-Yeah, man, how about you?
But most of my records are back in Philly.
Harvey, meet my buddy, Bob Crumb.
He Just moved to town.
He's an artist
with the American Greeting Card Company.
You should see his comics, Harv.
They're out of sight.
l'm into comics myself.
So Crumb showed me this comic book novel
he was working on..
Big Yum Yum Book.
I'd never seen anything like it.
This is terrific. l really dig your work, man.
This peter Wheat book is by Walt Kelly.
lt's pretty rare.
-Yeah? Can l get good bread for it?
-Not yet.
Let's get back to your book.
What are you gonna do with it?
l haven't really thought about it.
lt's Just an exercise.
No, man. lt's more than Just an exercise.
lt's breaking ground, man.
There's some wild shit in here, Bob.
You're spitting on me, Harvey.
Crumb and I hung out a lot back then.
We had records and comics in common.
Check it out, man.
Pretty scary.
You don't know the half of it, man.
Eventually, people got hip
to Crumb's artwork...
and he started hanging out
with the bohemian crowd.
After a while, he got sick of greeting cards
and moved away to San Francisco...
where he got the whole underground
comic scene off the ground.
He'd come back to Cleveland
every few years...
and people would treat him like a celebrity.
Once, he came to visit
when I was feeling real bad.
It was right after my wife left me.
She got so mean to me at the end...
like l tried to keep her captive
or anything like that.
l don't know, man.
But don't think
l'm buying any of this growth crap, man.
Everybody's always talking about
how bad experiences cause you to grow...
and all that cliched stuff.
Man, l got enough bad experiences
and growth to last me plenty.
Right now...
l'd be glad to trade some growth
for happiness.
How long you staying in Cleveland, man?
l don't know,
l got to see this chick in New York...
and l'm really busy
with the comic book stuff.
lt's good bread and all.
l'm Just getting sick of the whole scene.
What are you talking about?
You make a good living
doing your art, right?
How many guys get that lucky in their life?
Listen, l'll tell you something.
People are starting
to know the name Crumb.
When you croak, man,
you're gonna leave something behind.
Yeah, l guess.
lt's not like l'm Blind Lemon jefferson,
or Big Mama Thornton.
Come on, man.
l tell you something,
it sure beats working a gig like mine...
being a nobody flunky
and selling records on the side for $1 .
Well, that's true.
Listen, girlie...
these glasses are six for $2
because l couldn't carry 1 2.
But l wanted 1 2.
So today, l'm buying six more.
But you should only charge me
$1 .50 for them.
lt's all right. You can ask the manager.
Frank, l need a price check.
Man, old jewish ladies will argue forever
with a cashier about anything.
These glasses....
You get behind them in line
and you're gonna wait forever.
...because l couldn't carry 1 2. So today....
l'm a yid myself...
and women in my family are like that,
but l never got used to it.
l mean, l may be cheap,
but l got limits, man.
Let me explain one more time.
These glasses are six for $2....
Wake up! Your whole life's
getting eaten away with this kind of crap.
What kind of existence is this?
ls this all a working stiff
like you can expect?
You gonna suffer in silence for the rest
of your life, or are you gonna make a mark?
Okay, l have the money right here.
Even money, $1 .50.
You don't even have to
open the cash register.
Even change. And, dear....
Oh, shit!
Ever since l read your stuff, man,
l've been thinking...
l can write comic book stories...
that are different from anything
that's been done.
l figure the guys who are doing
animal comics...
and superhero stuff, they're really limited.
Because they got to try to appeal to kids.
And underground stuff like yours
has been really subversive...
and it's opened things up politically...
but there's still plenty more
to be done with them, too.
Pass the ketchup.
The words, the pictures,
they could be more of an art form.
You know, like those French movies...
or De Sica over in ltaly.
So, anyway, l tried....
l tried writing some stuff about real life...
stuff that the everyman's got to deal with.
These are all about you?
You've turned yourself into a comic hero.
Sort of, but there's no idealized shit.
There's no phony bullshit.
This is the real thing, man.
You know, ordinary life
is pretty complex stuff.
These are really...
Really, you think so?
Yeah, this is great stuff. l dig it.
Can l take them home and illustrate them?
You'd really do that for me, man?
That would be great because
l can't even draw a straight line, Bob.
What's up with your voice, Harv?
All of a sudden, you sound fine.
l don't know, man. l guess you cured me.
That Bonnie, her legs go forever.
How smart is she?
l don't know. l guess she's about average.
Average? Hey, man, average is dumb.
So what if she's dumb? l don't care.
''Hey, man, average is dumb.''
Fuck that. That's all stories by yours truly.
-Hot off the presses?
-That's right.
We have a regular Hemingway here.
No way, l don't go in
for any of that macho crap.
l didn't know you could draw.
No, l don't draw, doc. l write the stories.
-Harvey, am l in here?
-You're in there, all right? Take it easy.
A buddy of mine and some of his friends
do the art work.
Let me see this.
Mr. Boats, it's not polite to grab things.
Next time--
lt's not bad.
Son, you done good.
But you know, l was up in Toronto
a few weeks back.
l saw the Red Chinese ballet.
Now, that was beautiful.
The way those people
were dancing together...
those Chinese, they work hard, l tell you.
Where's everybody going?
Where are you sick men rushing off to?
You ain't going nowhere for now.
Probably not for a long time.
But damn if they're not a rushing off
to get there.
Harvey, how do your co-workers and friends
feel about you putting them in your comics?
They love it. They can't get enough of it.
They come up to me demanding to know
why I'm not in the new issue.
Most of them.
What about overhearing what people say?
Are you always listening at work?
Were you listening riding the bus?
-The supermarket?
-Yeah, l listen.
l fall asleep on people, too,
but l listen some.
Here's our man, eight comics later.
A brand new decade, same old bullshit.
Sure, he gets lots of recognition
for his writing now.
His comics are praised by all the important
media types telling people what to think.
But so what?
It's not like he makes
a living at it, like Bob Crumb.
He can't go and quit his day job or nothing.
Who am I kidding?
Truth is, I'd be lost without my work routine.
l got a Job.
Hi, Harvey.
Do you want these gourmet Jelly beans?
l gave up sweets for Lent.
-Yeah, sure, l'll take them.
-l recommend the pina coladas.
They're excellent and very authentic tasting.
lt's watermelon. That's pretty good.
Wait till you try the pina coladas.
Tell me something.
Can you eat lentils during Lent?
Sure, l don't see why not.
You can't eat meat on certain days...
but lentils should be acceptable anytime.
Do you think there's any connection
between lentils and Lent?
l don't think so. But l'll ask Sister Mary Fred
at church on Sunday.
Sister Mary Fred, huh?
ls she cute? She sounds kind of mannish,
but who the hell am l to be picky?
You're funny. She's a nun.
So what? Maybe she became a nun
because she couldn't get a guy.
She became a nun
because she had a higher calling.
Higher calling? What a crock of shit.
l don't even know why you
bother praying anyway.
l enJoy the ritual,
and l'm a very spiritual person.
You know, you should try
believing in something bigger than yourself.
lt might cheer you up.
What, do l seem depressed?
That was great, guys.
The bakery scene's next.
The bakery scene's next?
l didn't know of a bakery scene.
Did you ever hear of a bakery scene?
Bakery is my scene, but not in that way.
Forget the bakery, let's eat some Jelly beans.
l think one might be lime.
One might be mint.
What's the difference between this and this?
One's cherry, one's cinnamon.
You could tell that by Just looking at them?
Not me. l have to put it in my mouth first.
Loneliness can feel so bad.
There have been times I've felt lonely...
'cause a lot of the time,
it was just me and my grandmother.
I'd just be sitting in my room all day...
watching television or reading books.
That was before
I bought a computer, of course.
How do you cope with loneliness, Harvey?
-Did l say l watched television?
-You mentioned you watch TV...
you listen to your Jazz records, you read...
you write, you drew your stick figures...
so you could plan for your next comic book.
l've seen many of your stick figures.
That seems to be pretty interesting.
-Chocolate Jelly beans, l'm gonna try one.
-Go ahead.
Excuse me, can l help you?
Give me...
two crullers...
Jelly doughnut with the powdered sugar.
Thanks for coming.
-You got any of that day-old bread?
-l think so.
Here you go.
You're Harvey Pekar?
Alice Quinn, from school.
College, yeah.
We had a couple of Lit classes together.
What happened to you?
You disappeared after two semesters.
Yeah, l know.
l got good grades and all,
but there was that required Math class...
hanging over my head.
Eventually, the pressure
got to be too much, so....
You're doing okay, anyway.
l heard all about
your Jazz reviews and your comics.
-You did?
-Sure, you're famous.
Meanwhile, l got my degree
and l'm Just a plain old wife and mother.
l'm not doing as great as you think.
My second wife divorced me,
l work a dead end Job...
as a file clerk.
Sometimes l hang out
with the guys on the corner...
but most of the time
l Just stay at home by myself and l read.
You're luckier than you think.
Between my husband and my kids...
it's impossible for me
to curl up with a good book.
l'm reading this book by Dreiser now.
-Jennie Gerhardt.
-That's one of my favorites.
l hope that book don't end like
so many of those naturalist novels...
with someone getting crushed to earth...
by forces he can't control.
l think you'll be pleasantly surprised.
l mean, it's certainly
not your Hollywood happy ending...
but it's pretty truthful,
which is rare these days.
-This is me.
-All right.
-Nice car.
-l don't have one yet.
-Can l give you a lift somewhere?
No, that's all right.
lt's a nice day, l'll Just walk.
lt was nice seeing you.
When I got home,
I finished reading jennie Gerhardt.
It was real good. That Alice was right.
Sure, Lester, the main character,
croaks in the end...
but at least he's old
and dies a natural, dignified death.
I was more alone that weekend than any.
Sometimes in my sleep,
I'd feel a body next to me...
like an amputee feels a phantom limb.
All I did was think about jennie Gerhardt
and Alice Quinn...
and all the decades of people I had known.
The more I thought,
the more I felt like crying.
Life seemed so sweet and so sad...
and so hard to let go of in the end.
But hey, man,
every day is a brand new deal, right?
Just keep on working
and something's bound to turn up.
What happened to
the new American Splendor?
-l think we sold them, babe.
-All of them?
Rand, l put one aside for myself
next to the register.
l haven't even had time to read it yet.
Sorry, joyce, l didn't know
you were such a Splendor fan.
Next time, take it home.
Maybe l'll call the publisher.
lt'll take so damn long. Shit!
Why does everything in my life
have to be such a complicated disaster?
-Okay, maybe we can call someone--
-What is this?
All right. Okay.
l'm gonna hustle
before the vibe in here gets any worse.
You can Just hang.
''Dear Mr. pekar...
''greetings from the second smallest state
in the Union...
''an endless plastics and nylon plantation...
''controlled by giant chemical corporations.
''To make matters more dismal, there are
no decent comic book stores in my town...
''which is why my partner and I
opened one ourselves.
''Despite our steadily faltering business...
''my partner managed to sell the last copy
of American Splendor Number 8...
''out from under me.
''I'm a big fan,
and I hate to wait for a new order.
''Is there any way
I can get it from you direct?
''Sincerely, Joyce Brabner. ''
She's got good-looking handwriting.
''Dear Joyce, thanks for the.... ''
''Dear Joyce, thanks for the letter.
''What do you do besides selling comics?''
Anybody in the room ever done
any creative writing of any sort?
''I'm a sometime activist,
and I teach writing to prisoners.
''I try to help them build an interior life...
''and make art out of
their monotonous, suffocating routine. ''
This sounds familiar.
''So you married or what?''
''I'm divorced, thank God. ''
Look, l think you and l
got a lot in common, you know?
How am l gonna get you
to come visit me in Cleveland?
You think that's a good idea?
lt's a great idea.
You should meet me
because l'm a great guy.
Despite the way my comics read...
I got a lot of redeeming characteristics.
l don't know. Where would l stay?
l don't know. With me.
Don't worry.
l'm not gonna put no moves on you.
l'm not worried about that.
Hold on,
l Just spilled my chamomile tea all over me.
So what are you worried about then?
lt's the way all the different artists draw you.
-l don't really know what to expect.
Sometimes you look like a younger Brando.
But then, the way Crumb draws you...
you look like a hairy ape, with all these...
wavy, stinky lines undulating off your body.
l don't really know what to expect.
No, those are motion lines.
l'm an active guy.
Look, Just come out here...
and l will try to be anyone
that you want me to be, okay?
That's a dangerous offer.
l'm a notorious reformer.
Are you joyce?
-Hey, Harvey.
-So we finally meet in person.
Look, before we get started with any of this,
you might as well know l had a vasectomy.
-What's wrong?
Something's wrong.
You keep looking around everywhere.
l guess l never imagined
you'd eat in a place like this.
What, me? No, l've never been here.
l thought you'd like it.
-But obviously you don't, do you?
-No, it's fine. What difference does it make?
l don't know. None, l guess.
They got a lot of meat on this menu.
You're a vegetarian?
Kind of, you know, l mean....
Ever since l got a pet cat...
l've had a lot of trouble eating animals.
l support and identify
with groups like PETA...
but unfortunately,
l'm a self-diagnosed anemic.
Also, l have all these
food allergies to vegetables...
which give me serious intestinal distress.
l guess l have
a lot of borderline health disorders...
that limit me politically
when it comes to eating.
You're a sick woman.
Not yet, but l expect to be.
Everyone in my family
has some sort of degenerative illness.
Good evening.
l was gonna clean up...
but why should l give you
any false notions?
The truth is,
l got a serious problem with cleanliness.
lf l had to wash a dish 10 times,
it'd still be dirty.
They even kicked me out of the army
'cause l couldn't learn to make a bed.
l've seen worse.
Could you get me some water
and a few aspirin?
What, you got a headache?
-No, but l want to avoid one.
Let me tell you something.
Sure is nice to have company.
You know, l mean...
despite all your problems,
you seem like a great person.
l'm sorry if my dating skills are a little rusty.
lt's Just that l've been through hell and back
with women.
That last one turned out
to be a real nasty bitch.
-l had a nice time with you, too.
You had a nice time?
Don't make people repeat themselves.
That's annoying.
Come here.
Which way is the bathroom?
Through the kitchen, on the right.
joyce, what's wrong? What is it?
l don't know.
l think that yuppie food did me in.
l feel terrible.
Let me at least do something for you.
Can l make you something?
-How about some chamomile tea?
-Chamomile tea?
What's a guy like you doing with that?
l thought you drank soda pop for breakfast.
l Just noticed you drank a lot of it
when we started talking on the phone.
The girl at the food co-op...
she picked me out all kinds
of this herbal stuff.
One of these is good
for stomach aches. Here.
Grandma Bear's Tummy Mint or something,
l think.
Hey, are you still there?
l think we should skip the whole
courtship thing and Just get married.
Man, am l glad
l talked you into coming up here.
You know, any more time alone,
l really might have lost it.
Me, too.
You don't have any problems
with moving to Cleveland?
Not really.
l find most American cities
to be depressing in the same way.
And you're okay with the vasectomy thing?
Hey, Toby.
No, you can't have
any of my White Castle hamburger...
so please don't even ask.
-Yeah? Can l have a fry?
-Okay, but Just a couple, Harvey.
l'm not going to be eating dinner
until very late...
and this has got to hold me over.
What have you got, a church function?
No, l'm driving to Toledo to see a movie.
Would you like to come?
No, l gotta go to Delaware tonight.
l'm getting married.
-Why Delaware?
-The chick l'm marrying is from Wilmington.
Plus, l got to help her
move her stuff back here.
Why are you driving to Toledo
to see a movie?
lt's not playing at the Mapletown.
-l didn't know you had a girlfriend.
-Yeah, we met last week.
What movie could possibly be worth
driving 260 miles roundtrip for?
lt's a new film called Revenge of the Nerds.
lt's about a group of nerd college students...
who are being picked on
all the time by the Jocks.
So they decide to take revenge.
So what you're saying is
you identify with those nerds?
Yes, l consider myself a nerd...
and this movie has uplifted me.
There's this one scene where a nerd
grabs the microphone during a pep rally...
and announces that he is a nerd
and that he is proud of it...
and stands up for the rights of other nerds.
-Right on.
-Then he asks all the kids at the pep rally...
who think they are nerds, to come forward.
So nearly everyone in the place does.
That's the way the movie ends.
-So the nerds won?
All right.
You know, you got this movie,
and l'm getting hitched.
-We both had a good month.
-Harvey? Wait!
How long will you be in Delaware?
Because l'd like to see this movie with you.
l don't know. l'm gonna be gone a week.
But then, l'm gonna have a wife.
So l'm going to have to bring her along, too.
ls it a girl flick?
Depends on the girl.
What kind of girl is your new bride?
ls she a nerd?
l don't know, man.
Maybe, yeah. She's into herbal tea.
I did end up becoming a character
in his comics.
Harvey tends to push
the negative or the sour.
And he can be very depressed,
and therefore very depressing.
Harvey, do you think
you portray joyce fairly?
Yeah, l think l portray her fairly.
There's some things that she does
that l don't put in there...
for obvious reasons.
l don't wanna get my head cut off.
l think my portrayal is generally
fairly accurate.
There've been stories
that l've participated in...
or things that have happened,
and l've seen them...
as a lot more happy things going on
in there. He Just doesn't put that in...
because he Just doesn't think
that sunshine and flowers sell.
ls that right?
You always say, ''Misery loves company.''
You know, l'm Just a gloomy guy, that's all.
lt's my perspective: gloom and doom.
And see, l thought l was marrying somebody
with a sense of humor.
l guess l fooled you.
What a crock of shit, man.
-That's not the point.
-You missed the whole point of the movie.
-That's not the point.
-You missed the whole point of the movie.
Where the hell am l supposed to find
the point in garbage?
l agree with Toby.
l think it's a story of hope and tolerance.
Yes, it's about time that the people
who get picked on get to be the heroes.
lt's an entertaining flick and all,
and l can see why you like it, Toby.
But those people on the screen
ain't even supposed to be you.
They're college students...
who live with their parents
in big houses in the suburbs.
They're gonna get degrees, get good Jobs,
and they're gonna stop being nerds.
Remember what l told you
about loud talking? Use your inside voice.
Look, Toby, the guys in that movie...
are not 28-year-old file clerks
who live with their grandmother...
-in an ethnic ghetto.
-That's enough.
They didn't get their computers
the way you did...
by trading in a bunch of box tops
and $49.50 at the supermarket.
You're funny, Harvey.
l'm getting in the front.
Sure, Toby, fine.
You go to the movies and daydream...
but this Revenge of the Nerds ain't reality.
lt's Hollywood bullshit.
Harvey, let him alone.
The thing that l loved about it is
l was transported to another time in my life.
-l like when they took the video cameras--
-lf everyone could see it....
lt's the same as the ''l Have a Dream''
lt's very empowering.
Maybe I was being so harsh on Toby
on account of my own problems.
You see, I wasn't even married a month...
and my old lady
was already showing signs of trouble.
Granted, I tend to get married fast,
'cause I'll take any woman that'll have me.
But this time I really met my match.
How about these old 78s? Can't you
sell them to one of your collectors?
Are you kidding me, man? No way.
l ain't getting rid of my 78s.
Forget it, then. l give up.
How can l make more storage space
if you won't get rid of anything?
You know what? l'll get rid of stuff.
-just not my good stuff.
-Everything is your good stuff.
How am l supposed to live here
if there's no room for me?
Come on, baby.
l'll make room for you, okay?
You Just have to give me time.
l'm not so good at these things.
-Because you're obsessive-compulsive.
-Come on!
l don't wanna hear that psycho-babble crap.
l don't care if you don't wanna hear it.
You are the poster child for the DSM III.
l'll have you know
l come from a very dysfunctional family.
l can spot a personality disorder miles away.
Hello, joyce.
ls Harvey home?
Borderline autistic.
Are you listening to me?
l tell you, that Toby is a spy.
Paranoid personality disorder.
Polymorphously perverse.
Hey, leave a message.
This is me. pick up the phone.
You're not going to believe this...
but some LA producer called
and wants to do a play about my life.
Call me back. Call me here.
Delusions of grandeur.
See, l think comics
can pretty much be an art form, man.
l mean, the pictures can be
as good as they want to be...
and the words can be
as good as they want to be...
and a man can do pretty much
anything he wants to.
That's true, but l didn't come all the way
from Delaware to talk about comics.
Where is my American splendor
in a world that's cloudy and gray?
Where life keeps passing by me day by day
Where is my American splendor
in a world that's cloudy and gray?
Where life keeps passing by me day by day
If you think reading comics about your life
seems strange...
try watching a play about it.
God only knows how I'll feel
when I see this movie.
Things were going pretty good for a change.
Variety called me
''the blue-collar Mark Twain. ''
Doubleday was interested in publishing
an anthology of American Splendor.
l hate checking bags, man.
lt always takes forever.
The bus is gonna leave soon. That means
l gotta shell out an extra $30 for a cab.
Figures. That lucky yuppie
is gonna get the bus in time.
-You know, vasectomies are reversible.
-Goddamn yuppies get everything, man.
Are you listening to me?
l said vasectomies are reversible.
What? What are you talking about?
l don't want no kids.
And l came clean about my vasectomy
the first time l set eyes on you.
l know, but l think things have changed.
-l think we can be a family.
Right. What kind of family
could we possibly be?
l ain't no good with kids.
Christ, l can barely take care of myself.
l can take care of the kid and you.
No way, joyce. Forget it.
l can't have no kids. l can't do it.
Where the hell
is that Ornette Coleman album?
You know, l got a review due tomorrow.
l didn't touch it, Harvey.
Would you please let me sleep?
Come on, it's 1 :00.
How late can a person sleep, man?
lt happens to be Saturday,
you selfish son of a bitch.
That don't make no difference.
-Don't tell me what to do.
-l'm not telling you what to do.
l'm the one who moved into your city,
into your home...
into your vasectomy...
into your whole screwed-up life.
The least you could do
is allow me to live here in my own way.
I tried everything...
but nothing could get this woman
out of bed.
I mean, she wouldn't get a job,
wouldn't go out...
wouldn't make friends, nothing.
Joyce diagnosed herself
as clinically depressed.
I didn't know
what the hell she was going through...
but it was sure taking its toll on me.
joyce, we got a message here.
How come you didn't....
Useless, man.
Hi. This is a message for Harvey pekar.
My name is Jonathan Greene...
and I'm a producer
of Late Night with David Letterman.
We want to talk to you about coming
on the show to plug your comics.
please give us a call at 212-555-3333.
Joyce finally got off the futon.
Come on, who the hell cares?
-jesus Christ.
-Give that to me.
What the hell are you doing?
-People like this show?
l can't believe my voice is going.
What's the matter?
You were fine in the hotel.
You want something to drink?
l'm hungry. Aren't you hungry?
They should give you
doughnuts or something. Look at this.
-Dave's ready for you now.
-He is?
You got something to eat?
'Cause my stomach is growling.
-There's no time to eat.
-Come on.
Wait, what about the doll?
He's got it at the desk.
Would you relax about that?
-Guys, we're in a hurry.
-Which way?
-Right this way.
Thank you, boys.
Our next guest tonight works as a file clerk
at a Cleveland hospital.
He also writes comic books which deal
with his day-to-day pains and pleasures.
This is an anthology
of the nine of those comics.
It's entitled American Splendor.
From off the streets of Cleveland, folks,
please say hello to Harvey pekar.
Harvey, come out here.
Hi, Harvey.
Thanks for coming out here.
Have a seat.
What do you mean calling me ''curious''?
I met you before the show.
-I meant ''curious'' in a fascinating way.
-All right.
A man who has the presence
of one who is quite fascinating.
'Cause I met you before the show.
I thought you were a pretty nice guy.
I thought, wait a minute,
I might be nursing a viper in my bosom.
Something like that.
You're a little defensive about this?
Yeah, I'm waiting for those Cleveland jokes.
Go ahead.
-All right, settle down.
-Yeah, all right.
Let's explain to folks
who may not be familiar with your work...
what it is you do here exactly.
You have comic books
about you in your daily life.
And you also have a regular job
in Cleveland working at a hospital.
That's right.
-You know this guy?
-l'm beginning to wonder.
You could probably get by on
what you make selling your work.
Because people want you to write more,
and you're publishing this anthology.
Who? What people?
What are you talking about?
-Where the hell do you get that stuff?
-I know that you....
You know, that--
I'm no show-biz phony. I'm telling the truth.
Go on, man.
You can't....
-At least he's keeping up with Letterman.
-Pandering is more like it.
You mean to tell me that other people
haven't contacted you for writing literary....
-I mean--
-You could making a living as a writer.
What are you trying to do over there?
l'm trying to get some news.
There's a big story about to break...
about the US selling arms to lran
and the Contras.
-Just relax.
-Don't worry about it.
Finally, something good. Watch this.
-I got a job.
-I know you've got a job. I've got a job.
-We're both very lucky. We both have jobs.
-Then what's the matter?
-Joke, man.
-We gotta go.
Harvey, I like you. I'm on your side.
I enjoy the comic books.
-Quickly, tell us about the little doll.
-My wife made it.
-Am I giving you a hard time?
-Am I making you nervous?
We have to go now.
I wanted to mention these are for sale.
-They're made out of your old clothing.
-What do these go for?
-$34 for this?
-What are you, cheaper than me?
-Would you pay $34 for that?
-No, but I'm not asking it. My wife is.
Such brilliant repartee.
So, what do you think?
Hi, this is a message for Harvey pekar.
From the streets of Cleveland,
ladies and gentlemen, please welcome...
the one, the only Harvey pekar.
Harvey, come on out, buddy.
It became clear pretty fast that
I was invited on the show just for laughs.
You look like a lot of guys
you see sleeping on buses.
-It's all right, Dave, have a good time.
-I know, we're doing what we can.
-It's your world. I'm just living in it.
But what the hell did I care?
Letterman was an okay guy.
Let him take potshots at me.
So long as I got paid
and got to plug my comics.
I think to myself, you look like every
police artist sketch I've ever seen.
Funny thing is...
something about me and Letterman
clicked for the viewers.
He kept wanting me back.
-It was about a year ago, this month--
-That's right.
No, last month.
A year ago, last month, you made
your first appearance on the show.
-What has happened to you since?
-Not much, David.
It's slow going. I still have the same job.
But see, Harvey, you're the embodiment
of the American Dream.
And it wasn't just me
getting all the attention.
Are these free?
As a result of my appearances
on Letterman...
my buddy Toby Radloff,
landed a gig extolling the virtues of MTV.
Watch where you're going.
-All right, you fucking yuppie freak.
-Who the fuck is this on my set?
Look at this, the man of the hour.
This is my new do for the MTV generation.
We came upon Toby Radloff
while doing a story in Cleveland last year...
on his friend, the comic artist Harvey pekar.
Toby's a genuine nerd, and he doesn't care
if you have a problem with that.
Hi, my name is Toby Radloff,
a genuine nerd from Cleveland, Ohio.
And as you know, many hip people...
including a lot of college students,
are going to be heading for spring break.
But I have decided
to spend my own personal spring break...
right here in beautiful Cleveland, Ohio.
That day, I had an epiphany.
It seemed that real salt-of-the-earth people,
like Toby and me...
were getting co-opted
by these huge corporations.
We were getting held up and ridiculed
as losers in the system.
This is Toby Radloff,
genuine spring-break party nerd...
signing off.
What can I say? It was the '80s, man.
Harvey, are you listening to me?
l've been reading about these kids
who grew up in these war zones.
You know, Palestinians, lsraelis...
El Salvadorians, Cambodians.
These kids are amazing--
You're that guy
from the Letterman show, right?
Yeah, that's me.
That's so excellent.
You and Stupid Pet Tricks are a riot.
Yeah? Then how about
you buy one of my comics, man?
That's the only reason
l go on that dumb show, anyway.
Right. Sure. Later, Harvey Pekar.
-What an asshole!
-l want to write a political comic book...
about these kids.
Listen to me. There's a conference
in jerusalem in a couple of weeks.
l'm gonna start
by doing some interviews there.
Wait a minute.
What are you talking about, jerusalem?
Lately l can barely drag you off the futon
to go with me to the Letterman show.
Do you want to know why?
Because l don't give a damn
about the Letterman show.
l want to do something important to me,
something that matters.
You know l only go on the show
for the extra bread.
Maybe if you got your lazy ass up,
and got yourself a Job...
l could do something that matters, too.
-Harvey, you're yelling.
-You ever think of that?
l'm sorry.
joyce, l'm sorry.
I guess it was good to finally see
Joyce excited about something of her own.
This is crazy. Can't you Just
do something here in Cleveland?
You'll survive a couple of weeks by yourself.
All right.
Be careful out there, all right? l love you.
Sure, I was happy for her,
but I was still upset for me.
It was later that night
when I first found the lump.
I was determined to put it out of my mind
until Joyce got back.
Easier said than done.
What do l care? just give me the chart.
-What is your problem?
-Miguel, look...
l Just don't want to keep
coming back here for it, okay?
Harvey, that patient's due to be admitted
a week from now.
-Why do you always fight?
-How often must we go through this?
just give me the fucking chart!
-We'll see what the doctor has to say.
What do you mean, another two weeks?
jesus Christ.
You've got to come home sometime!
Goddamn it.
just walk straight out to the desk.
l know. Okay, fine.
-You all set?
I was starting to lose it.
Between the lump, the loneliness,
I felt like everything was closing in on me.
And with Joyce over there
saving the world...
I never felt more like a sell-out hack
in my life.
You know, folks, if it really is true
that misery loves company...
our next guest must always have
a house full of people.
Okay, asshole.
You're gonna pay for that one, man.
Ladies and gentlemen,
please welcome back Harvey pekar.
Harvey, this is not the forum.
This is not Meet The press.
You Just want me to talk about
simple-minded bullshit, David.
-l ain't co-opted like you. l got things to say.
-Relax, Harvey.
For instance, l want to talk about
a conflict of interest situation.
Can we do that, David? How about that?
You know,
like GE owning this network, NBC.
GE has basically become
a military, industrial, financial--
Can we get the singing shitzu back here?
Has he left the building yet?
You think NBC news is gonna cover
what they do fairly?
-l got other things l wanna talk about.
-That's enough--
just shut up, man! Don't push me.
-l'm doing my own thing.
-Harvey, this is not--
Are you afraid of the truth, David?
It's not about what you're saying.
It's about your choice of venue.
It may come as a shock to you,
but this is a comedy show.
-Not tonight, it ain't.
-joe, come check this out.
Take your winning personality
and go get your own show.
-I don't want my own goddamn show.
-We've had you on this show many times.
You sulk, complain,
and promote your comic book...
and you really haven't been appreciative.
You didn't do me any favors, okay?
I'm still a file clerk.
I've always been a file clerk...
and it's no thanks to you
or to your goddamn pathetic audience.
We're gonna take a commercial.
And when we come back,
guess who's not gonna be here.
You want me to leave, David?
Come on, ask me like a man.
-Don't go hiding behind a commercial.
-Are things okay at home, Harvey?
Things are just great at home.
Okay, goodbye, Dave.
Goodbye, America, and thanks for nothing.
Harvey pekar, ladies and gentlemen.
We'll be right back.
-l guess you really did it this time.
-Who the hell cares?
That show wasn't helping my sales anyway.
please don't go away anymore.
l Just can't take being alone, you know?
lf you met those kids over there,
you wouldn't ask that of me.
l'm telling you something...
if you go away again, l'm gonna lose it.
This is not up for discussion.
l need this in my life right now.
l do appreciate the fact
that you missed me so much, baby.
Harvey, what is that?
l don't understand.
Does ''tumor'' mean the same thing
as ''cancer''?
We know the growth is malignant.
What we don't know
is how far it may have spread.
Once we have the results, we can make
informed decisions about treatment.
How can l have cancer?
-l don't feel sick at all.
-That's a positive thing.
My cousin Norman died of lymphoma.
He was 29. He was a brilliant oncologist.
Stop it! You're not gonna die, Harvey.
You're not.
What's gonna happen to you, baby?
Who's gonna take care of you--
Look at me and focus.
We are gonna get through this.
l understand illness.
l know how to handle these things.
Yeah, but that's you, you know?
l'm not strong enough.
l don't know how to be positive.
l can't do that. l can't do it.
-Yes, you can.
-No, l can't.
l'll tell you how.
You'll make a comic book
of the whole thing.
You'll document every detail.
And that way, you'll remove yourself
from the experience until it's over.
l can't do that. l'm Just not strong enough.
Man, l Just wanna die.
That's fine. l'll do it without you.
l'm Fred.
You called me about the comic book.
Right, the artist. Come in.
This is my daughter, Danielle.
l had to bring her along.
l hope you don't mind.
Hi, Danielle. What's that you're holding?
A pony.
A pony? What's his name?
She's a girl. Clarissa.
Oh, l see.
l'm joyce, and l'm very pleased
to meet both you and Clarissa.
l'm real sorry to hear about Harvey.
ls he here?
He's going to work till next week
when he starts the chemo.
That's why l want this proJect started...
because once he's stuck here,
l know he'll take over.
Fucking idiot.
Hey, joyce, open the door.
l forgot my keys again.
Hold the door.
Open the fucking door, man!
-Hey, Harvey.
What's going on, man?
You see, l thought it was a great idea.
joyce said if we try to Just follow you
through your treatments....
She thought it was a good idea, too,
didn't she?
Here's some of the ideas
we've been batting around.
All right.
joyce has no idea what she's doing, man.
There's too many words in these frames.
When are you coming back, Fred?
She said something about next Tuesday,
which is fine with me. lt's Just....
The only thing is,
l might have the kid again.
My ex-wife is supposed to take her, but
l don't have much faith in her showing up.
She's in worse shape than me these days.
Next week...
my treatment begins.
Do me a favor, man. Bring the kid, will you?
l wanna die.
What's wrong, Harvey?
What are you doing up? What is it?
Tell me the truth.
Am l a guy who writes about himself...
in a comic book?
Or am l Just a character in that book?
What are you talking about?
What are you saying?
lf l die, will that character keep going?
Or will he Just fade away?
Oh, my God. Harvey, wake up.
Wake up, Harvey. Come on.
Oh, no. Come on, wake up.
Can you hear me?
My name is Harvey Pekar.
That's an unusual name: Harvey Pekar.
1960 was the year l got my first apartment
and my first phone book.
Now, imagine my surprise
when l looked up my name...
and saw that in addition to me,
another Harvey Pekar was listed.
You know, l was listed as Harvey L. Pekar.
My middle name is Lawrence.
He was listed as Harvey Pekar.
Therefore, his was a pure listing.
Then in the '70s...
l noticed that a third Harvey Pekar
was listed in the phone book.
Now, this filled me with curiosity.
How can there be three people
with such an unusual name in the world...
let alone in one city?
Then one day...
a person l work with
expressed her sympathy to me...
concerning what she thought
was the death of my father.
She pointed out an obituary notice
in the newspaper...
for a man named Harvey Pekar.
And one of his sons was named Harvey.
These were the other Harvey Pekars.
And six months later, Harvey Pekar, jr. died.
Although l'd met neither man...
l was filled with sadness.
''What were they like?'' l thought.
lt seemed our lives had been linked
in some indefinable way.
But the story does not end there.
For two years later, another Harvey Pekar
appeared in the phone book.
Who are these people?
Where do they come from?
What do they do?
What's in a name?
Who is Harvey Pekar?
We've got T-shirts for sale upstairs,
if you're interested.
Here's our man, a year later.
Somehow I made it through the treatments,
and the doctors are optimistic.
I guess Joyce was right
about doing a big comic book.
We published the thing as a graphic novel,
our first collaboration...
and ended up with rave reviews.
We even won
a couple of National Book Awards.
Go figure.
Those are beautiful.
Did you find this in there?
l didn't even see those.
Ever seen one of these flowers?
Are you finished?
Danielle, l love it. Very expressive colors.
What is it, Harvey?
That was the doctor.
He says l'm all clear.
The weirdest thing
that came out of my illness was Danielle.
With her real mother running around
who knows where...
and seeing how well her and Joyce got on...
Fred decided
she'd have a better life with us.
I was scared at first, but then I thought,
what the hell. She's a good kid.
Hi, Harvey.
So we ended up taking her
and raising her as our own.
-You keep reading them backwards.
-l like reading them backwards.
ls that one you?
l keep telling you, all of them's me, man.
You look like a monster.
Wait till you see
what you're gonna look like.
-Yeah, you're part of the story, too, now.
What story?
The story of my life.
l know l'm not as interesting as The Little
Mermaid and all that magical crap--
l think l'm gonna write my own comic.
-Yeah? What about?
-l'm not sure yet.
But not about you.
l think you have enough already.
You should write about
things in your own life.
You know, like school...
and ponies. l don't know. Girl stuff.
Do you have to hold my hand?
What are you, embarrassed of me?
l know, l'm embarrassing.
l felt the same way about my father.
No. lt's Just, when you hold my hand,
you squeeze it too hard.
Go on.
joyce is right.
You are obsessive-compulsive.
Go on.
Yeah, so I guess comics brought me to life.
But don't think
this is some sunny, happy ending.
Every day is still a major struggle.
Joyce and I fight like crazy.
And she barely works.
The kid's got ADD and is a real handful.
My life is total chaos.
With a little luck, I'll get a window
of good health between retiring and dying.
The golden years, right? Who knows?
Between my pension
and the chunk of change I get for this film...
I should be able to swing something.
Sure, I'll lose the war eventually.
But the goal is to win a few skirmishes
along the way, right?
For he's a jolly good fellow
Which nobody can deny