Why am I quoting lines from The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus, which can also be found on the Statue of Liberty? In a round-a-bout way, a non-direct way, that seems to represent the Harmontown podcast, the people it often attracts, and the heart of this documentary, perfectly. I’m proud to say I’m one of these people; an outcast of sorts. I’m not homeless, but I’m certainly too poor to get by most of the time. I’m tired, but only because I get fits of fatigue. And like my fellow Harmenians, I yearn to breathe free, to hone what makes me special and share it with the world.
In the hands of an incapable filmmaker, a documentary about Dan Harmon and his Harmontown Tour would have missed out on what makes the podcast, and Harmon, unique. Luckily, this film has Neil Berkeley at the helm, who knew how to capture that lightning in a bottle in every way. Harmontown has this uncanny ability to draw in specific types of people; people like Harmon, his fiancée Erin McGathy, co-host Jeff Davis, and dungeon master Spencer Crittenden, who all join Harmon in The Drawing Rooms and comedy clubs of America.
Throughout the film, Harmon and company travel across the United States, hitting over a dozen cities, in search of something simple. Harmon has seen the rating numbers from his show Community go up and down over the years. His journey, at first, is to trek into the unknown, and find the people that make up these ratings. Yet what he finds, I believe, is what not only makes his weekly podcast at Meltdown Comics so beautiful, but Berkeley’s documentary nothing short of perfect.
Berkeley’s film is an honest, heartfelt love letter to the known and unknown faces that make the Harmontown podcast so special. He gives us Dan Harmon, faults and all. We see Harmon confident, arrogant, self-destructive, happy, and depressed, but always honest. Then, as we cross our first threshold in the film, there’s a subtle shift.
In the first act, you’re led to believe that the film is about Dan Harmon, a television writer, freshly fired from his own show and potentially going through a form of midlife crisis. He has two new shows he has to write while on his journey, an entire country to travel, a rocky relationship with his girlfriend, and no sign of an ability to grow or change.
After hearing stories from his close friends, a number of famous film makers, comedians, and writers, the shift occurs. Suddenly, the faces in the testimonials aren’t those of famous people. They are the faces of Harmenians, the unique individuals that attend the shows, made up of Community fans and those in love with the weekly podcast. They… WE, are given the same screen time as the people we idolize.
It’s at this moment in the documentary that Berkeley focuses on us. He does this slowly by first giving us an ambassador; a hero. His name is Spencer, and he’s been right in front of us all along. Spencer, possibly to his dismay, represents a lot of us. He was a fan, sitting in the audience, in the strange world he knows and doesn’t fit into. Then, he’s plucked from that world and taken along with Harmon into the world of the unknown.
Spencer is the heart of this film, while not taking away anything from Harmon, McGathy, and Davis. In every scene Spencer has with these people, he brightens them, pulls them from any darkness they might near. Though not shown enough in the film, Spencer built a great friendship with Erin, shown on their YouTube Channel, yet we do get glimpses of it in the documentary. Spencer shares a couch with Davis at one point, who says his favorite part of the tour was Spencer’s company. Continuing his hero’s journey, Spencer returns to LA to co-star in a role on Community, a show that (SPOILER ALERT!) hired Harmon back by the film’s end. Harmon watches Spencer deliver his lines with the actors all Community fans have come to love, smiling at the young man’s performance, proud.
By this point, at the film’s end, the Harmenians have taken over, shown in more testimonials and revealing what makes each of them special. We too bring out the best in Harmon and everyone else on stage. Harmon realizes that he wasn’t searching just for the people that made up his ratings, but how to connect with them, help them, guide them, and learn from them.
In the end, to me, Dan Harmon grew more than even he believes. He claims that he’s the villain, that he hasn’t changed much on his journey, making Spencer the hero. In my eyes, there are many heroes throughout the documentary. One of which, is certainly Harmon. He overcame ego and narcissism to call himself the villain in his own movie, which whether in the right direction or not, certainly is big of him and shows change. He recognized talent in Spencer that might have been overlooked by others for the rest of the dungeon master’s life. His relationship with Erin McGathy grew stronger, with them now engaged and living together. His friendship with Jeff Davis strengthened in many ways. Lastly, his connections with his fans and admirers escalated to an astonishing level, all captured by Neil Berkeley’s camera and eye for beauty.
Every great documentary gets its audience to look inward as often as they look at the subjects on screen. This film does that. Will this documentary change your life? Yeah, actually it does have that power. To the right person, this could be the inspiration for them to become a writer, a filmmaker, a podcaster, or one of the many styles of artists in the world.
To the right person, this film isn’t about a guy who wrote a television show that gets bad press and decides to take a tour with his friends. To the right person, this is a documentary about them, that it’s okay to be different, and that there’s a place on this planet that will welcome and accept them.
Long answer, short? I give Harmontown a 5 OUT OF 5 POCKET PROTECTORS rating.
I’ve been waiting to see the Harmontown documentary since its premiere in Austin, Texas, at the famous SXSW Film Festival a few months back (in below photo). I will say to those fans still waiting, it’s worth the wait. I thank LACMA, Meltdown Comics, Starburns Industries, and the LA Film Festival for bringing it to us just a few nights ago here in Los Angeles.
Harmontown will be released in Los Angeles and on iTunes on Friday, October 3rd; and in New York on Friday, October 10th.