Hot Docs 2014: Harmontown – Documentary Review

Director: Neil Berkeley
Country: USA
Rating: 14A
Runtime: 101 min

Dan Harmon is inarguably a very funny man. The creator of the cult-hit television sitcom Community and star of the zany yet successful podcast “Harmontown,” Harmon is able to keep audiences laughing. It therefore makes sense for an audience to expect a documentary film about this individual and his tour to be as hilarious as he is. What director Neil Berkeley has created with Harmontown, however, is a surprisingly dark look at a struggling and self-deprecating individual. The film certainly has its moments of humour, but is ultimately a much more serious portrait than expected that holds an importance that is not easy to forget.

Harmontown

After being fired from Community, the sitcom he created and wrote, a jobless, alcoholic Harmon begins his next adventure: the podcast “Harmontown,” which he cohosts with his highly compatible friend Jeff Davis. Completely unscripted and entirely unpredictable, these episodes range from outrageously funny stand up routines to depressed drunken ramblings. Regardless of his inconsistence, however, Harmon’s beloved fans remain steadfast, as many credit Harmon and his show for helping them through difficult times in their lives. Catering towards the outcasts, Harmon created an inclusive environment where it is actually very cool to be uncool.

Not only is Harmon himself a funny individual, but it appears as though director Berkeley is, as well. The two artists work well together, with Berkeley asking questions from behind the camera and Harmon answering as if addressing a good friend. Berkeley is a sensitive filmmaker, depicting honesty and pain in an unfailingly respectful manner. The film benefits from enlightening interviews with well known, recognizable actors who provide further insight into Harmon’s character and inside background information in regards to his writing career. The film not only chronicles Harmon’s recent podcast tour, but provides flashbacks to his various writing jobs as well, providing information of which many in the audience would have been previously unaware.

Harmontown

There is a certain poignancy to this documentary that may not have been expected initially. Humour is often used to mask deep rooted pain, and over the course of this film, it become evident that such is the case with Harmon and much of his writing. However, if Harmon’s goal is to make others happy with his work, he definitely achieves it both with his television show and his podcast. The reactions that his loyal fans have to his show and even to his presence are impressive, as it seems as though Harmon has had serious positive impacts on many. These are the social misfits, who have found a place where they truly belong. Perhaps the fact that Harmon is himself an outcast explains why he connects with them on such an intimate level. When watching this film, be sure to stay for the epilogue, which concludes the film on a note of fortunate and satisfying hope.