The Amazing Johnathan is a comedian and magician that expertly subverts and toys with familiar conventions and expectations. It only makes sense that a documentary about him follows suit. In 2007 The Amazing Johnathan was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a brutal heart disease that forced him to retire in 2014. He was also given one year to live, he survived well past his expiration date and decided to get back to performing.
He teams up with filmmaker Benjamin Berman to share his stories and daily struggles with the disease that will end his life (eventually). This film could have been a reflective look back on Johnathan’s life, career, accomplishments, and regrets. It could have played things safe and told a nice story with a triumphant ending that moved the audience to tears…but that’s not Johnathan’s style, and it doesn’t make sense to film a conventional documentary about a performer who has never been anything close to being conventional.
“…an unraveling mystery involving a second documentary crew hired by Johnathan to film another documentary…”
This film is damned interesting. Just like one of his magic tricks, you think it’ll be something you’ve seen before a hundred times, but there’s a darkly unique spin to it that makes the old and tired feel fresh and new. Johnathan doesn’t just pull a rabbit out of a hat, he pulls a rabbit out of his hat, and then he murders the fucking thing with his bare hands. The Amazing Johnathan Documentary features an unraveling mystery involving a second documentary crew hired by Johnathan to film another documentary and a twist ending that made the audience howl with laughter. Director Ben Berman is just as much of a character in his own documentary as The Amazing Johnathan is. It’s a good thing he’s funny and charming because his screen time is substantial. His scenes are brutally honest, hilarious, and his visible frustration permeates from the screen.
Another interesting aspect of this doc is that it doesn’t shy away from The Amazing Johnathan’s battle with drug addiction. It’s captivating stuff, and one scene proves that Ben is willing to go above and beyond to get an edge on his competition and make his the more interesting documentary out of the two. Some of my favorite moments feature Johnathan’s infectiously mischievous smile as he knowingly screws with poor Ben’s art and mind. There’s one scene between the two that is so intense it feels uncomfortable to watch. There are some moments where Johnathan kind of comes off as a dick, but mostly he’s impish and lighthearted.
“…this film has made me an even bigger fan after seeing it.”
I would have loved to see more of Johnathan’s wife and fellow magician Anastasia Synn. The glimpses and sound bytes we get from her portray her as a caring partner crushed by the idea of losing someone she loves dearly, but these brief moments only scratch the surface of what she must be thinking about Johnathan and his approach to documenting his life. We get some celebrity talking heads like Weird Al, Eric Andre, Carrot Top, and others, but they offer no insight into their relationship and are seemingly mostly there to get reactions about some of Ben’s more wild predicaments. I would have liked to see more of them talking about what Johnathan means to them, but who knows? Maybe all of that is on the other documentary. Overall, there’s not much to complain about because this film is straight up magical.
The Amazing Johnathan Documentary is a ton of fun. It’s an engaging documentary with two charming subjects, and I’d recommend it to fans of The Amazing Johnathan and the uninitiated alike. I was a fan of The Amazing Johnathan before, and this film has made me an even bigger fan after seeing it.