Published Nov 27, 2019Self-referential meta comedy has, for better or more likely worse, jumped its own shark in recent years, as breaking the fourth wall has become a preferred comic medium for normies. Still, the age-old practice still has plenty of value, as proven by Benjamin Berman's head-scratchingly hilarious film The Amazing Johnathan Documentary.
As its title suggests, the film is, on its surface, a documentary about fabled magician the Amazing Johnathan, who was a fixture on the circuit in the '80s and '90s before being forced into retirement following a rare heart disease diagnosis that gave him only a year to live. That was in 2014, and yet the magician is still alive and kicking.
For the first ten minutes or so, The Amazing Johnathan Documentary feels like a stock documentary about a since-forgotten celebrity. Then things get increasingly insane, and the film becomes a rollercoaster of twists and turns, as the documentary seemingly falls apart.
Without spoiling anything, the film quickly becomes a documentary about itself, including pointed critiques of the current glut of docs, and a personal examination of Berman's own motives in making the film. The Amazing Johnathan himself proves a worthwhile subject, offering a balancing act of sympathetic sad-sack scenes and downright villainous behaviour.
The film is ultimately a doc about docs, and it will likely leave viewers with as many questions as answers. It all unfolds in a satisfyingly ramshackle manner, but one can't help but wonder if its Nathan For You-esque antics were precisely what Berman sought out to achieve in the first place. After all, he's worked on myriad Tim & Eric projects (including the proto-Nathan sketch show Jon Benjamin Has a Van).
Regardless of his motives, however, Berman has crafted an incredibly fun ride. The Amazing Johnathan Documentary is truly one of a kind, whether you care about the latter-day life of a bummed-out illusionist or not.