Berman, Shari Springer 1964-
BERMAN, Shari Springer 1964-
Home—New York, NY.
Director and screenwriter. Director of films, including Off the Menu: The Last Days of Chasen's, 1997; The Young and the Dead, 2000. Director of the television movie Hello, He Lied & Other Truths from the Hollywood Trenches, 2002.
Best documentary feature award, Hamptons International Film Festival, 1997, and Ten Best Movies of 1998 citation, USA Today and CNN, all for Off the Menu: The Last Days of Chasen's; Grand Jury Prize, Sundance Film Festival, Comedia Award, Montreal Comedy Festival, Boston Society of Film Critics Award for best screenplay, New York Film Critics Circle Award for best first film, San Diego Film Critics Society Award for best adapted screenplay, Seattle Film Critics Award for best adapted screenplay, Toronto Film Critics Association Award for best first feature, Critics Award, Deauville Film Festival, New Director's Award, Edinburgh International Film Festival, FIPRESCI Prize, Cannes Film Festival, Open Palm Award, Independent Feature Project, all 2003, and Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for best screenplay, Central Ohio Film Critics Award for best adapted screenplay, Chicago Film Critics Association Award for most promising performer, National Society of Film Critics award for best screenplay, Oscar Award nomination for best screenplay based on material previously produced or published, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Pauline Kael Breakout Award, Florida Film Critics Circle, Writers Guild of America Award for best adapted screenplay, Chlotrudis Award for best adapted screenplay, Online Film Critics Circle Award for best breakthrough filmmaker, and Russell Smith Award, Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association, all 2004, all for American Splendor.
SCREENPLAYS, WITH ROBERT PULCINI; ALSO DIRECTOR
(And interviewer) American Splendor, Fine Line Features, 2003.
Wanderlust (for television), 2005.
The Nanny Diaries, based on the book by Nicola Kraus and Emma McLaughlin, 2007.
Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini form a husband-and-wife team of documentary filmmakers. They first came to critical notice for 1997's Off the Menu: The Last Days of Chasen's, a documentary about the closing of a Los Angeles restaurant that had once been a favorite haunt of movie stars; however, the couple is best known for their award-winning 2003 film American Splendor.
American Splendor is based on the life and work of Harvey Pekar, a comic book writer who famously commented that "ordinary life is pretty complex stuff." For several decades Pekar had a day job as a file clerk in Cleveland, but in his spare time he created a cult-favorite comic book series based on his life, called "American Splendor." The comic books are very different from most of the genre; Pekar does not portray himself as a hero, and he does not attempt to write humor. Instead, he simply chronicles the minutiae of everyday life, the good and the bad (and there is plenty of bad). Berman and Pulcini's American Splendor maintains the same attitude; as Kirk Honeycutt commented in the Hollywood Reporter, "Believing that life is best observed in the details, the film sharply scrutinizes the little things that reveal whole mindsets and attitudes."
The film version of American Splendor is not a documentary, but it is not a typical biographical film, either. Berman and Pulcini mix scenes where Pekar is portrayed by actor Paul Giamatti with sketches that seem to have been torn from a comic book. Pekar himself provides voice-over narration, and also appears as himself in archive footage from his appearances on the David Letterman show in the 1980s. Pekar can also be seen in surreal scenes shot in a white room with brightly colored plastic furniture, where Pekar is purportedly sitting and observing the filming. Berman, Pulcini, and the actors sometimes join Pekar in the room as well; although Berman and Pulcini never appear on-screen, they do chat with Pekar from behind the camera. "This cubistic approach, blurring the line between the man and his work, gives us the impression we're seeing the world from inside Pekar's head," wrote Newsweek reviewer David Ansen. "American Splendor is hardly the first film to deal with the conundrum of cinematic realism," Amy Taubin commented in Artforum International, "but it does so with humor and a keen appreciation of paradox."
American Splendor was a critical success, winning dozens of awards and garnering generally positive reviews. National Catholic Reporter reviewer Joseph Cunneen called it "easily the most original film of the season," and a Daily Variety contributor termed it "sad, tender, wise and beautiful.… [A] vibrant, untamed film that stubbornly refuses to fit into any prefigured category." "It's an extraordinary film," wrote Honeycutt, that "hit[s] an unbelievably rich vein of drama, humor, love, whimsy, psychological turmoil, commonplace travails, genuine trama and artistic triumph."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Artforum International, June, 2003, Amy Taubin, "Cleveland Heights: Amy Taubin on American Splendor, "p.59.
Daily Variety, January 23, 2003, review of American Splendor, p. 9.
Esquire, September, 2003, Tom Carson, "The Credible Hulk," p. 116.
Hollywood Reporter, January 24, 2003, Kirk Honeycutt, review of American Splendor, p. 10.
Library Journal, March 15, 2004, Michael Rogers, "Go to the Movies—Off Screen," p. 80.
Multichannel News, May 22, 2006, George Vernadakis, review of Wanderlust, p. 31.
National Catholic Reporter, September 19, 2003, Joseph Cunneen, "Comical Quirks: Films Find Humor, Pathos in Two Ordinary Lives," p. 20.
New Leader, September-October, 2003, Raphel Shargel, "Dead-end Fantasies," p. 42.
Newsweek, August 11, 2003, David Ansen, "Shredding the Envelope," p. 54.
New Yorker, August 18, 2003, Anthony Lane, "Life in Pictures," p. 150.
New York Times, June 19, 1998, Lawrence Van Gelder, "For a Hollywood Institution, Just Desserts"; August 15, 2003, Elvis Mitchell, "A Comics Guy, Outside the Box."
People, August 25, 2003, Leah Rozen, review of American Splendor, p. 33.
Time, August 23, 2003, Richard Schickel, "A Life More Ordinary," p. 58.
Docurama,http://www.docurama.com/ (June 30, 2006), "Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini."
HBO Films Web site,http://www.hbo.com/ (June 30, 2006), "American Splendor."
Internet Movie Database,http://www.imdb.com/ (June 30, 2006), "Shari Springer Berman."*