I have a long and personal history with Dan Harmon’s work, and in a lot of ways, this documentary is a culmination of my fandom for him growing to its absolute peak. That is to say, the work of Dan Harmon is something I’ve always loved, even before I knew his name. You’re most likely familiar with his most famous work, Community. A lot has been written about that show, and with it, Dan Harmon. The two are kind of inseparable, which is what creates such an interesting pretense for a documentary: What happens to an artist when his creation is taken from him?
While this is a documentary that certainly does tell that story, the main focus is on Mr. Harmon. It’s his self-destruction, heartache for the loss of his own show, and the eclectic people who have all been touched in one way or another by Dan Harmon’s work that creates the backbone of the movie. We follow the tour he takes in response to being fired from his own show, and what we see is a condensed version of scenes from his popular and eponymous podcast Harmontown. So this documentary is really for two sets of fans; Fans who love Community and want to know more about its creator, and fans of his podcast. I’m personally in the latter, and I was giddy to watch this film. In a nutshell, it’s exactly what I expected. The podcast in a movie form, with a semi-narrative that accurately captures the spirit of the tour, and of Dan Harmon himself. He’s a tortured mad genius poet, who cannot accept his own success, and seems to self-sabotage. But it’s great! It’s cathartic to watch a man slowly – over the course of his tour – take some time to think about who he really is, who his fans are, and what that connection truly means to him, and to his fans in turn.
If you’re a Harmonite like me, you don’t need convincing to watch this movie, not really. If you’re in the camp of fans who only know him as the creator of Community, I’m honestly jealous of you. Along with the wonderful podcast (which is basically the long form version of lots of this film), this movie is a deep exploration of how insidious self loathing is. It shows us the real trials of being a very demanding artist who is willing to burn everything around him to create from his soul. It’s a passion and a drive that is respectable and admirable, even if ultimately unhealthy.
And unhealthy it is. Don’t get me wrong, this documentary is not favorable to Dan Harmon. It’s quite unflinching in its portrayal of his relationship with his girlfriend, who sits back and casually receives verbal abuse from Harmon that would cut others to ribbons. If there’s one thing to look for in the film, it’s how even though Harmon is a broken, sad, tortured man, he’s still managed to find someone who loves him for who he is. It’s a beautiful message and one of the more subtle ones told in the film. We mainly see the film through the perspective of a young Dungeons And Dragons player (“A Dungeon MASTER”, as he exclaims in the film) named Spencer Crittenden. He’s our “everyman” in the documentary, and as much as I love Spencer in the film, the focus is clearly on Harmon.
Harmontown is a documentary that shows us how over long periods of time, with enough mental work, enough patience and enough time, we can rise out of the ditches of self-loathing we all dig for ourselves. I can’t think of anything more heart wrenching than having your creation ripped away from you and given to others to continue working on, and the effect it has on Harmon is gripping. He’s a polarizing man for sure, but I guess in a lot of ways so am I, and so are a lot of Harmontown fans. I think that’s something that I, Harmonites, and Dan Harmon himself have all discovered together, and that’s pretty damn magical.
Images: Harmontown, The Orchard