Movie Review: ‘Harmontown’

harmontown posterDan Harmon is an asshole. He’s an obsessive, blunt, Godzilla type who stomps all over his business and personal relationships like a monster lighting Tokyo afire. He’s been fired by Sarah Silverman, feuded with Chevy Chase, and was even canned from his own show, Community. He’s a rough around the edges type who has no filter and only sees his own vision, much to the detriment of his co-workers and collaborators.

Dan Harmon is also a fucking creative genius.

In Harmontown, Director Neil Berkeley follows Harmon and his protégés as they take their podcast of the same name on the road for a 20-city tour. The documentary captures many moments on film that you’ve likely read about in the news, including Harmon’s public broadcasting of angry voicemails from Chase and his very nasty firing from Community, while digging deeper and deeper into the psyche of the prolific, yet socially calamitous writer and showrunner.

On the road with him is Jeff Davis, his comptroller of the live improv podcast shows; his girlfriend (and saint, if you ask me) Erin McGathy, and Spencer Crittenden, an audience member who was pulled from the masses to become the show’s Dungeon Master. In fact, Crittenden is the perfect prototype for Harmon’s audience and, in many ways, exemplifies why they love him the way they do.

For the live show podcasts, Harmon stands at a mic and drinks, vents, jokes and occasionally, breaks down in a potpourri of unscripted glory. It’s a free flowing expression of whatever the hell is on his mind at that given second. At times, it’s downright hilarious and entertaining. Other more poignant moments, however, scrape the bone beneath to reveal his fears, his faults, and most importantly, his humanity.

Harmon’s audience is not only entertained by his antics, but fueled by them. Self-proclaimed oddballs and nerds line-up after every single show to meet Harmon and the show’s cast with hopes of telling them how much their work has affected their lives in very deep, profound ways. And isn’t that the very meaning of what art should be? When the laughter, stories, and characters of the podcast are infused with Harmon’s natural vitriol and sometimes unadulterated pain, it sparks a riot inside the hearts of his fans, people who never feel like they fit in, or who rarely make deep connections with others in their real lives. By divulging his entire life on stage, the uncensored Harmon becomes a celebrity pariah to his fans; watching him be so real and honest about his craft is downright exhilarating to watch throughout the film. Through Harmontown, both the podcast and the film, he personifies his art.

As it turns out, maybe Dan Harmon isn’t so bad after all; the surface level jerk the media makes him out to be is only one side of his story. Though the film never shies away from his faults, Harmon doesn’t either, constantly trying to balance out his selfishness and accompanying guilt with his passion for writing and creating comedy. However, on the pendulum that is Harmon’s life, his passion and work will always outweigh the rest.

Grade: A

Harmontown is currently available to stream on Netflix.

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