SXSW Film Review: 'Harmontown'
Neil Berkeley must be magnetically pulled to mad geniuses.
Following up his terrific portrait of artist Wayne White, 2012’s Beauty Is Embarrassing, Berkeley documents another draw-outside-the-lines creative force, TV writer Dan Harmon (Community), as he embarks on a 20-city tour taping his popular Harmontown podcast in front of live audiences. Berkeley effectively mixes footage from the freewheeling performances and backstage ephemera with archival clips from Harmon’s often-troubled career (Heat Vision and Jack, The Sarah Silverman Program) and affectionate but frank testimonials from his friends and co-workers.
“A human hand grenade with a predilection for pulling his own pin out” (as John Oliver puts it), Harmon lets it all hang out for the camera – his black moods and shame spirals, that devastatingly sharp tongue and a dizzying number of drinks poured – but Harmontown, a large-hearted film, also illustrates what Harmon calls “the misfit quality” that bonds him to his audience and his collaborators. Chief among those collaborators is scene-stealer Spencer Crittenden, a shy dungeon master who joins the show almost by accident and becomes a cult hero. You might not know what he means when one shiny-eyed fan squees to the camera, “Spencer signed my D20!” – but then again, you know exactly what he means. As much a portrait of a community as of its brilliant, de facto mayor, Harmontown is a stirring tribute to the restorative power of finding your people.
Documentary Spotlight, World Premiere
Saturday, March 8, 9:30pm, Vimeo
Sunday, March 9, 4pm, Alamo Village
Wednesday, March 12, 5pm, VCC
Friday, March 14, 2pm, Vimeo