Hot Docs 2014: Harmontown (Neil Berkeley)

2014_hotdocs_stock_imageScreening in a special presentation this evening at the Burwash Quad, is the final showing of Harmontown. A no-holds barred portrait of Dan Harmon, the comedic genius behind the much beloved television series, Community. He is also notorious for being difficult to work with, which resulted in his ejection from the show at the end of its third season, and a little bit self-destructive.

He has created a large following, not just because of his show, but because of his podcast, Harmontown, which he records at Meltdown Comics, with his co-host Jeff B. Davis, and his dungeonmaster (they play D&D on stage during the course of the show), Spencer.

He decides to take the unscripted podcast on the road, and drags, Jeff, Spencer, and his girlfriend Erin with him, all while he is supposed to be finishing up scripts for both CBS and FOX.

Instead of working on them though, he loses himself in the show each night, occasionally aided by alcohol, and one is never sure what is going to come out of his mouth. Self-sabotaging, incredibly funny,and occasionally deeply pained, Harmon is, like all of us, a flawed human being, who simply wants to be loved, and wants to make each project he works on the best it can possibly be.

Unfortunately, that will lead to clashes time and time again, his firing from the Sarah Silverman Show, his bitter feud with Chevy Chase, his dismissal from Community.

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Each night on stage, Harmon lays himself bare, laughing and sharing his pain, and observations with the crowd, and Berkely is there to catch all of it.

And while, Harmon is learning to let go, and open himself up more to help, especially in connecting with his girlfriend, the story finds an unlikely hero in Spencer. A quiet, but funny young man, Spencer, who showed up one night because he wanted to play Dungeons & Dragons with Dan, begins to grow into his own skin and realizes he’s not alone.

In turns funny and troubling, we are given an all-access look at Harmon’s existence on the road, the fragility of relationships and how they strengthen us, the relation between creator and fan, and the occasional need to simply let go.

Harmon is undeniably funny, but his perfectionism and self-destructive tendencies always seem to oust him from a successful position.  But like all of us, he is a work in progress and by film’s end we see the beginnings of change and new growth.

I really enjoyed this one, laughing a lot, and seeing members of the Community cast, as well as other actors and writers, talking about the show’s creator in open and honest terms.

Everything is on display, and you either see the man, the geek and the artist, or a ticking time bomb. I choose to see the man.

What did you think of it?

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