Documentary “Harmontown” Shows Dark Underbelly Of Brilliance
By Scott Kurland
Starring: Dan Harmon, Jeffrey Bryan Davis, Spencer Crittenden, Erin McGathy, Ben Stiller, and Jack Black
Rated: Not Rated
Being a creative genius is hard. Being a self destructive genius is just as hard. No one truly understand what it’s like crafting a tv series, movie, podcast, or even a novel. There are many working pieces that go into formulating even the tiniest idea. No one ever even realizes that maybe sometimes that making the things we all love is a bit of a burden on the creator of said thing. This week’s films is a documentary about one of those geniuses. I was asked by a reader why I don’t review a lot of documentaries, I didn’t have an answer for them so I decided to review one of the most talked about documentaries to come out this year. The film is “Harmontown” and it’s the whimisical and heartbreaking story of the man behind “Community” and “Rick and Morty” Dan Harmon.
“Harmontown” is the true story of TV creator Dan Harmon, and how after NBC/Universal fired him from his own TV show, “Community” what he did after. Harmon was fired from his series after he played a heated voicemail from Chevy Chase was one of his “Community” stars. Harmon played this on his podcast, and for it was fired, Harmon then takes said podcast on tour across the country taking about everything from his battle with the network, to playing D&D live, and most shockingly Harmon’s battle with alcoholism. Harmon knows he’s and alcoholic, but instead of getting help he decides to tell hundreds upon hundreds of strangers about it in crowded theatres and comedy clubs. We watch as Harmon’s bittersweet relationship with his doting girlfriend Erin McGathy goes from loving to toxic in sixty second. Finally we see Harmon’s new Dungeon Mast Spencer breaksout of his introverted comfort zone and learns to be a hero.
Dan Harmon is truly an inspiring figure to many outcast and pop culture junkies including yours truly. However, the secret war he faces everyday is overwhelming. Watching the life Harmon leads is part inspirational and part terrifying. We watch as Dan signs autographs, meets his fans, and jokes around with his celebrity friends. That’s amazingly entertaining. Yet, we see the tragedy that is Dan Harmon. Harmon never shys away from the truth about his alcoholism, and watching it on film is heartbreaking. We literally watch a man drink homemade moonshine in Nashville and see him become a monster to his girlfriend, only to see him tell a crowd of people he’s awful to his girlfriend.
Watching Harmon we see him as both victim and villain. He’s a victim of his own failure and success. He’s too demanding on his production that it has caused him to be fired by both Sarah Silverman and by NBC. Yet, Neil Berkley’s vision of this man is not of someone we should pity, or even of someone we should idolize. He allows us to make that decision for ourselves. We see clips from Harmon’s past work like his failed Ben Stiller directed pilot “Heat Vision and Jack” starring Jack Black as an Astronaut and Owen Wilson as a talking Motorcycle. (Trust me YouTube the pilot if you get the chance it’s a real treat).
Yet, I can’t help by go back to Berkley’s focus of Harmon’s relationship with his girlfriend Erin McGathy. He sums up their struggles in one painstaking realized bit of dialog. “I know we’ll never breakup because I’d never leave her, and if she left me I’d kill myself.” Yes, yes he said “I’d kill myself”, Berkley’s direction and edit of that scene is almost watching a David Fincher scripted drama. Berkley paints Harmon and McGathy as two stuck individual still very much in love with each other, but the dynamic of their love has become hazardous. Watching McGathy stare at Harmon as he says horrible things about their relationship will bring a tear to your eye. Anyone who isn’t moved by her supporting silence is clearly dead on the inside.
“Harmontown” is Berkley’s second documentary and it’s one of the most ambitious subject matters a newer director could take. We see success and failure of one man through Berkley’s eyes, and we never see a bias like we’ve seen in so many Michael Moore documentaries. In “Harmontown” black isn’t always black and white isn’t always white. Lines are muddled, people are shown as the delicate fragile creatures they are intended to be. What I love about this documentary is we see people grow from their failures, and never let their own destruction get in the way of financial success. “Harmontown” is one of the most inventive and insightful documentaries I’ve seen in years, and that’s high praise come from a movie whose theme song is, “come on down to Harmontown. Pee is yellow and poop is brown.” Yes a film with dialog that childish is one of the best documentaries to be made in the last five years. I highly recommend you search for this documentary in Boston and OnDemand/streaming. One of the best hidden gems of the year.
REVIEW RATING: B+