‘Ordinary life can be pretty complex stuff’. So runs the tagline for Sundance audience winner American Splendour. No shit. You’ll be teelling me the pope wear a silly hat next.

What is remarkable about American Splendour is not that it is a critically lauded and successful, slightly quirky autobiography of a grumpy old comic book writer. The amazing thing is that people are lauding the tiniest deviations in it from the Hollywood norm. A biopic of an almost nobody, done in the style not a million miles away from the autobiographical style of said nobody’s underground comic. When Pekar suggests writing a comic about the basic irritations of his life it is presented as the most innovative thing ever. Diary Of A Nobody may not have been a comic (or real autobiography), but the idea is old as the hills and at least in that case it was satirical.

All biography, auto or not, is selective. If the innovation is merely not to flatter the subject then both the comic and the film works. Pekar does not come across as a hero, even in Paul Giamatti’s slightly softer and more comic presentation. He is a loser that got lucky in as much as he got to also write about being a loser. I am a bit fearful for the audience that over-identifies with him. The selectivity of this presentation is to make him appear even more grumpy and curmudgeonly for vaguely comic purposes. Yet the film skips around with its timeline with gay abandon ignoring key issues about the formation of this character.

The film starts with his second wife walking out on him. Second wife! How much of his misanthropy is based on these two wives, a childhood we see nothing of, and the film is not interested in. The film begs these questions and ignores them. The adopted teenage daughter who is the daughter of an artist friend is glossed over completely. One minute she is a vaguely annoying visitor, next moment she is part of the family because the actual parents cannot be arsed. We never really see enough of the comic strip to see why it is people identify with trite grouches about waiting in line for shopping. Instead there is some play with deconstructing the form by presenting Giamatti as actor Pekar and the real Harvey Pekar side by side. The nerd who seems terribly caricatured is shown in real life just to show that he really does talk like that. The film is not however interested in deeper questions of a documentary or biopic form. Just because it does not glamorise the subject, does not mean it aspires to any greater truth.

American Splendour was a let down for me, merely because all its apparent innovations appeared to me to be nothing of the sort. If you want to spend two hours in the company of a misanthrope then by all means go see it. But do not expect to be enlightened about the human condition. In the end that is the problem with the style of film and comic Pekar is involved in. Just because other people are as rubbish and as miserable as we are, it does not justify the rubbish and miserable lifestyle. The title American Splendour started off as ironic, I am not sure if it has remained so.