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You’ll Never Guess What Is Real In “The Amazing Johnathan Documentary”

Among cult magicians, The Amazing Johnathan stands out from the pack. His mix of magic and stand up comedy is truly unique. So, on the surface, his persona alone would make for a good documentary. However, The Amazing Johnathan Documentary has way more up its sleeve than that, no pun intended. Initially beginning as a simple portrait of the performer on the comeback/farewell trail after a medical diagnosis, the film evolves quickly into something utterly compelling and often bizarre. Much like The Amazing Johnathan himself, the movie contains deception after deception, though ultimately concluding on a surprise that’s even shocking to Johnathan himself.

The documentary begins life in a somewhat straightforward manner. For years, The Amazing Johnathan was a popular comedy/magic act, often trafficking in the seemingly grotesque. Then, he stopped touring, somewhat suddenly. It turns out, he had received a terminal diagnosis. However, a few years back, he opted to commit to one final farewell tour, which is documented here. That’s just the initial focus of the doc, as the focus shifts a great deal. You see, at one point Johnathan announces that an Oscar winning documentary crew will also be following him. Then, another one joins. Then, another one does. Before long, as much time is spent on the filmmaker himself struggling to separate truth from illusion. Has Johnathan pulled a fast one or is something else going on? Benjamin Berman directs (as well as ends up a co-star), with writing credits going not just to Berman himself but also to Clark Baker and Joshua Cohen. Zack Wright composed the score, while the cinematography is handled by Dan Adlerstein, in addition to Berman himself.

Where to begin here? How much is real in regards to The Amazing Johnathan remains a question mark up until the very end. Once the first act concludes and the subsequent documentary crews come into play, Berman is able to turn the camera on himself, ultimately setting up a third act that’s as much mystery as character study. When Johnathan fades into the background a bit, the doc initially suffers, but as more comes into play, it actually turns into a benefit. As the movie evolves, it actually grows into less of a gimmick and more of a true study of, not just a real character, but also the nature of what’s real and what isn’t.

The Amazing Johnathan Documentary ultimately has a lot to say, mainly when the focus moves away from Johnathan himself and centers on director Benjamin Berman. Johnathan is deliberately difficult, so while his quirks are initially interesting, they would have worn thin after a while. So, giving himself a starring role, Berman effectively brings you along for the ride. It was a definite gambit, but it pays off. Then, there’s the ending, which doesn’t quite answer all of your questions, but wasn’t really meant to in the first place. Some might take issue with that, but for me, I found it the perfect way to end this film.

Now in theaters and streaming on Hulu, The Amazing Johnathan Documentary is a very unique beast. The flick works as an introduction to the illusionist for sure, but also is just a compelling look at filmmaking. Why does someone make a documentary? What compels someone to perform? Can an artist ever truly turn it off? These are the concepts that the doc ends up fascinated by, and it comes across to audiences. However you choose to view it this weekend, this is a weird little movie to seek out for sure…

Be sure to check out The Amazing Johnathan Documentary, available on Hulu and in select theaters now!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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