Sunday, June 15, 2008

Why I Love Paul Giamatti: Reason #2,003

Dear Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences,

Allow me to introduce you to Paul Giamatti.

He's one of the greatest actors of all time. Oh, you know him, you say? Ah, yes, the pitiful consolation nomination for supporting work in Cinderella Man. Tsk, tsk. We can do better than that, can't we?

You have consistently chosen to ignore his superior work, and I am ashamed of you. In this decade alone, he should have received three Best Actor nominations, and two Best Actor wins. In 2003, he gave a tour de force performance in American Splendor. He should have been nominated, and he should have won. In 2004, he delivered the best performance of his career thus far in Sideways. You snubbed him yet again. He certainly should have been nominated, and he DEFINITELY should have won. I will never forgive you for this.

And finally, while Lady in the Water is an embarrassment to cinema, his magnificent, nay miraculous, work in it deserved an Oscar nomination over Leo in Blood Diamond or Forest Whitaker in The Last King of Scotland for sure. And since you selected Whitaker as the winner, in a category he didn't even belong in, what does that say about your discretion or integrity?

Wake up, Academy, and pay attention to this extraordinary man. Paul Giamatti doesn't need your validation to continue being Paul Giamatti, but it would be nice to give him some serious thought and acknowledgement for a change.

A Paul Giamatti Enthusiast

Well, hello there! You seem to have stumbled upon my personal letter to the Academy. What provoked this, you ask? Well, other than Paul Giamatti's stellar turn in Lady in the Water, it's his revelatory work in American Splendor, which I delightfully revisited recently. Giamatti takes on the enormous challenge of playing an actual person who narrates, consults on the film, and constantly lingers around the set. He stars as Harvey Pekar, a shlubby, perpetually cranky, raspy-voiced Clevelandian file clerk in a veteran's hospital who just happens to be the hero of his own Everyman comic book, American Splendor. He writes the material, painfully drawn from life (none of that "idealized shit"), and then has it literally drawn by artists, including Bob Crumb (James Urbaniak), himself the subject of a documentary. American Splendor is part documentary, part biopic, part animation, part fantasy, and part (mostly) fiction that is heavily grounded in reality. Phew. Got all that? It's an inspired melding of filmmaking approaches.

Harvey Pekar could easily have been a caricature, but he isn't because a) Giamatti plays him with sensitivity and depth, and b) Pekar really is like that. We see him in interviews intercut with the rest of the film. It's hard to believe, but this guy exists. Other people who exist and make appearances in the film include Pekar's wife Joyce (portrayed by Hope Davis), Pekar's friend and colleague, jelly bean aficionado, and self-proclaimed nerd Toby Radloff (portrayed by Judah Friedlander), and Harvey and Joyce's sort-of-adopted daughter Danielle (depicted by Madylin Sweeten). The majority of the film is devoted to the actors, but the alter egos, and Pekar moreso than the others, make carefully planned appearances to explicate and enrich the story. I've never seen a film like this one.

Written and directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (who have since unfortunately fallen from grace via The Nanny Diaries) with fantastic energy and flair, American Splendor sucks you into Harvey's drab, angry Cleveland existence. Nothing is sugar-coated. But it's not depressing either, which is a great achievement. It's actually quite poignant and uplifting. There's heart and humor in the dregs of society and in Harvey's melodramatic self-loathing. The film often morphs into the guise of a comic book, with panels popping up here and there, and it's all driven by a brooding, urgent, infectious jazz score (indeed, the score of Harvey's life). American Splendor is a masterpiece in all aspects of the filmmaking process. It will blow your mind with its quirky, unconventional, self-aware, progressive storytelling techniques. It's a marvel (not unlike the comics)...a true American treasure.

Friedlander is a riot as the slow/deliberate-speaking Toby, and Hope Davis is out of this world as neurotic hypochondriac Joyce (Harvey: "Wow, you're a sick woman." Joyce: "Not yet, but I expect to be."). She's got impeccable comic timing and conveys Joyce's love and concern for Harvey beneath her icy, sarcastic exterior. Paul Giamatti is mesmerizing in American Splendor. His talent is limitless as far as I'm concerned. He's a different actor in every role, though no less outstanding. He BECOMES the role, never giving less than 150%, even in crap like Lady in the Water. Harvey Pekar was lucky to be portrayed by Giamatti.

The song "Ain't That Peculiar" is featured prominently in American Splendor, as per Pekar's request. Well, even if Paul Giamatti hasn't quite received the appreciation and respect he deserves as of yet, there's nothing peculiar about his consistent standard of acting genius or his rising star in Hollywood. Keep at it, Mr. Giamatti. I adore you, and I know I'm not alone. Cinema wouldn't be what it is without you.

In an interview, Paul Giamatti muses, in his ultra-sincere, humble, endearing way, "Am I really cool? You're telling me I'm cool? Well, that's good to hear."

You, Mr. Giamatti, are the coolest cat around.

Rating: ***** (out of 5)


Bill Treadway said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lisa Draski said...


It didn't even get a lot of love from the Spirit Awards. It's such a special film. More people should be aware of it.

Man, Giamatti is big pimpin' in that B&W photo - I love it! :)

Alexa said...

love Love LOVE him. Thanks, Lisa!

Robert said...

Giammati deserved at least the nomination. I enjoyed Hope Davis.
I own a coule of the anthologys and i recommend them highly. Ver y entertaining. My blog is about tv if your interested. Peace.