|Review by Elizabeth Weitz
For a vast majority of comic fans, one of their first introductions to the medium were the adventures of Archie Andrews and his life in Riverdale.
Sure, the comic wasn’t as exciting as say, Superman or Batman, but there was something sweet about Archie and his band of friends (and frenemies) that made you return to the story time and time again…even if you wouldn’t openly admit it lest you were branded a sentimental fool.
In Gerald Peary’s sweet documentary, Archie’s Betty, the simple and idealized life of Riverdale (which, surprisingly, has managed to survive a society as cynical as ours over the decades) is explored in the form of a quest to see if the characters in the comic were based on the real life people that Archie creator Bob Montana knew during his formative years.
This quest turns out to be a race against time to sort out answers from the elderly possible contenders, many of whom are in their 80s and 90s.
From the town of Haverhill, MA (the inspiration for Riverdale) Peary manages to track down the various people most associated with the characters in the comics via interviews, Montana’s own diaries and superfans of the comic (although there is still lingering debate on who’s who) but the one elusive gem is Betty, while many have speculated on the true identity of the All American Girl Next Door, no one has been able to really get a definitive answer.
Is she a composite of several girls? Is she based on Montana’s real next door neighbor and prom date? Or is she based on a girlfriend, not from Haverhill at all?
Let the hunt begin!
If you are a fan of the Archie comics, this one part investigative journalism/one part road trip, will give you a deeper look into the creation of the characters and into Bob Montana himself, if you are interested in comics as a genre, this is a neat look at where inspiration for comic characters can come from.
The only real criticism of the film (which can be difficult to get past at times) is in Peary’s narration style. Stunted and monotonous, it can feel that he is reading off a piece of paper instead of giving the topic the feeling it deserves, pulling the film down a bit (as writer, director and producer perhaps it’s simply a matter of “Doing too much”).
Thankfully the documentary is peppered by enough interviews and interesting content that you are able to trudge through the narration and still find enjoyment in it, another real testament to enduring quality and charm of the Archie Comics universe.
So come along for the ride.