- compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2003 1 Jan
"The unexamined life is not worth living." If Socrates had not said those words, they could have come from Harvey Pekar. The inventive and wildly entertaining film about Pekar's life in theaters this week demonstrates that very principle.
Pekar is many things. If you have heard of him, then you probably encountered him on the David Letterman show or as the writer and central character (but not the artist) of a series of comic books called
What sets Pekar apart from other comic book authors—indeed, from most artists of any kind—is his attention to the details of ordinary lives, to losers and "average folks," to menial activity and common conversation. As he focuses on these details, he discovers the epic, the tragic, and the comic in everyday life. His humor is tinged with bitterness, sadness, irony, and sarcasm, but it also glows with affection for unglamorous people.
The new film
Even though Pekar's strange rise to fame develops into a familiar fight-with-cancer drama, the film is never less than engaging. Most of the time it is surprising, hilarious, and thoughtful. The filmmakers never lose their focus on larger themes. In the end,
My full review is at Looking Closer.
David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) is similarly impressed: "Despite a discursive script and meandering pace, the film's dramatic rudder—Pekar's alienation and search for meaning in life's marvelous minutiae—holds the story in tow, driving it forward and providing a linchpin to keep viewers engaged. Sadly, the Divine has no play in the prickly poet's musings about ultimate meaning and purpose."
J. Robert Parks (Phantom Tollbooth) calls it "a strange amalgamation of genres. The movie does a wonderful job of bringing those comic book stories to life. Pekar's deadpan humor, especially about himself, is exceedingly funny." But Parks believes that the film "falls short" from the moment Harvey's wife Joyce enters his life. "Though Hope Davis is a fine actress and one I'm always happy to see … her character's presence sends the film in an unfortunate direction. The movie becomes much more about their relationship and Harvey's struggle to make a name for himself. It's standard bio-pic stuff, following the traditional narrative arc of ups, downs, self-realization, and eventual triumph."
Movieguide's critic says it "ultimately paints a positive portrait of one unique man and his family, but it contains plenty of strong foul language."
Few films released this year have received as warm a welcome from mainstream critics as
At Dick Staub's CultureWatch, there is an examination of
from Film Forum, 10/02/03