Going into The Amazing Johnathan Documentary, I knew nothing about Johnathan himself, the mystique around him, or his rather unique act. Walking out, I am not sure whether or not I know much more about the man, but there is a story here that is just remarkable and all-be-it insane.

Director Benjamin Berman creates a wild ride that is stroked with mistrust. Much like how a magic act keeps the mystique of the trick in hiding, Berman and Johnathan combine for a visage where you aren’t sure who you can trust.

The wild turn in The Amazing Johnathan Documentary is not the blatant use of drugs by a man who is already living past his due date. Nope; it’s that Johnathan is hiring competing documentary teams to film at the same time after Berman got there first. But wait, Berman wasn’t the first documentarian there? There was one before him…someone who also juggles chainsaws? Why not add in a fourth camera crew? Let’s make it a party.

Johnathan is John Edward Szeles, a man who in 2014 said he had a year to live due to a battle with the heart condition cardiomyopathy. His once fluttering career as a Las Vegas entertainer and TV Show appearances came crashing down quickly, and with enough money to survive, he decided it was time to settle down with his wife Anastasia.

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Fast-forward three-four years, Szeles embarks on a farewell tour. Having already lived further than he expected, he wants a reason to live again. So back onto the stage he goes, and as the spotlight shines on him in the physical sense, so does on his ethos.

Szeles is not a nice guy. I’ll go as far to say that I do not like him as a person. He seems to go out of his way to make people distrust him. A crude addiction to drugs, now being methamphetamine, has directly impacted people in his life in a negative way. Szeles admits to this! Also, the dude is just not a good interview. He says the same stuff over-and-over to every single person who is asking. There is a pleasant montage of this exact thing happening as all the competing documentarians are trying to get something out of nothing.

The put-offish magician is playing games with his crowds and with Berman. With all the different filmmakers invading a space that he once that was his own, self-doubt and a need to push-the-limit creep into Berman’s mind. Through the depravity of trying to find his reason for doing this The Amazing Johnathan Documentary, Berman starts down a path that begins making the audience as warry as himself as Szeles.

Over the last half of the movie, and in particular the final act, Berman really becomes the main character. This is part necessity because Szeles has basically cut him out saying his documentary must take billing behind the Oscar-winning force that joined the party after Berman; but the enhancement of his presence also involves ego on the filmmaker’s part.

Personally, I could not pinpoint how I felt about Berman until I listened to him do a series of interviews. The one that struck was Sean Fennessey from The Ringer who blatantly (in a nice way) told Berman to his face that he didn’t trust him. That abruptness finally snapped the rope of the tug-of-war I was having with my invisible foe.

Watching The Amazing Johnathan Documentary, I did not like Szeles and I did not trust him a lick. However, the rope I was pulling so hardily in that direction was being snagged on something…and that’s that Berman himself is a character with a sense for flare. This comedy act needed the audience aviator, and Berman was that while also being the audience curator.

This is not a bad thing. This dichotomy of emotions involving a dying man I don’t feel sympathy for, partnered with a filmmaker who is pushing himself just a bit too much as a way to make his documentary go, is an absurd formula. Do you trust a man who makes a living lying to an audience for laughs, or a man who has a shadow that reminds me of the Cheshire’s Cat obtuse smile?

This may sound like I am bashing Berman, but that is not the case. When you find yourself part of a massive story that’s seems to fake to be real, it’s impossible to not want to inject yourself into it more. It’s human nature. As the audience, you just have to keep that in mind as you process the ridiculousness.

The Amazing Johnathan Documentary is a crowning achievement of making the most of something. Berman puts Szeles on his stage and allows a story to unfold around the once harrowed illusionist. The director’s own persona creates both a humanizing and gumshoe atmosphere. The grey area this documentary revolves around is unbelievable mess in the best way possible.

STANKO RATING: A-

“The Amazing Johnathan Documentary” IMDB
“The Amazing Johnathan Documentary” Rotten Tomatoes

 

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