Plot: After revealing to the world that he had only a year to live, magician The Amazing Johnathan somehow beat the odds and survived for several years, much to even his own surprise. He decides to embark on a final tour and along for the ride is a documentary film crew, to make an inside look at the farewell run. Benjamin Berman is the project’s director and he and Johnathan soon set off on the tour, with some early insights into Johnathan’s career, his health, and his mindset. Just as he settles in a little, Berman is stunned when Johnathan informs him a second documentary crew is going to be involved, this one with Oscar wins under their belt. Before he can even adjust to this news, more and more documentary crews arrive, including one that has years old footage of the magician. Meanwhile, Berman struggles with all of this and Johnathan’s erratic behavior, all the while wondering if any of this is real or if Johnathan is just unleashing an elaborate prank on the filmmaker.
Entertainment Value: I think the premise here is fantastic, a mind bending personality like The Amazing Johnathan at the center of a documentary that goes off the rails, leaving the crew unsure of what is real. But this movie fails to capitalize on that potential and instead, focuses on the wrong elements and makes director Benjamin Berman the subject of the piece. Johnathan is given a lot of screen time, but not much depth, whereas Berman spends a lot of time on his own issues and perspective. Had he went all in for that approach, perhaps it might have worked, but instead he fails to deep dive or commit, so the entire movie is uneven and inconsistent. Just when it looks like Johnathan is going to take the spotlight, Berman has some doubt or insecurity that swings the piece back toward his own narrative. There are some great moments, especially the flood of rival crews and Johnathan’s relentless taunts toward Berman, but they’re not around enough to resonate. Instead, the multiple crews comes off like a gimmick and sadly, Johnathan himself is often pushed aside for Berman’s presence. The documentary is still more than watchable, but it would have been better if Berman could have shown more focus and made it a more dynamic presentation.
Although I have a lot of issues with The Amazing Johnathan Documentary, it is hard to deny that it does entertain in many sequences. I think whenever Johnathan is around, the movie picks up a lot and even in the serious moments, Johnathan captivates and commands the screen. His taunting of Berman is often hilarious, reminded him at every turn that one of the rival crews has two Oscars, which is one reason Berman falls into a spiral in the first place. The mind games of Johnathan are easily the best part of the documentary, though Berman provides some interesting scenes when he commits, such as his look into his past to explain his drive as an artist. In the end, either of the stories, a character study of Johnathan or a look at Berman’s personal journey, could have worked, but neither is allowed to blossom here. I do think there’s enough to warrant a light recommendation for documentary fanatics, Johnathan fans, or those into more meta real life stories, however.