Not rated, but it has a lot of everything. I was about to write "A bit of everything," but then realized there's a ton of content, followed up by a scene that reminds you that the scene happened earlier. It's got a lot of drug use. The language is pretty intense. I loved The Amazing Johnathan's act when I was younger, but a lot of it is shock and gore humor. Honestly, the movie has to be TV-MA. I just don't want to stream the movie again to see if Hulu labels it as TV-MA. imDb has it as Not Rated so I'll stick with that.
DIRECTOR: Ben Berman (as Benjamin Berman)
I watched this so long ago! It was early last week! Why am I not writing? I just don't have the energy to do stuff like this anymore. I know my own policy. I have to write about everything I watch. Knowing that I accidentally missed writing about the first Neighbors movie, I plan to rewatch that movie just so I fulfill an empty goal. I hear me too!
Hulu, somehow, became my home for original documentaries. Between Batman and Bill, Becoming Bond, and the Oscar nominated movie loosely surrounding skateboarding (I'm very tired), I keep seeing these docs that completely knock my socks off. I was putzing around Facebook and saw this trailer for The Amazing Johnathan Documentary. It's getting bizarre how much Hulu is putting stuff out just for me. I adored The Amazing Johnathan growing up. His Comedy Central special was constantly playing in the late '90s and early 2000s. I saw him at Meadow Brook. He may have been the first ticket I've ever paid to see someone live. He's definitely my first stand up experience. When I found out about his insane story from the trailer, I knew that I had to watch. Even if the movie was just a comeback documentary, I knew that there was something in there. I wanted to love this documentary so badly. But Ben Berman's triggering subject might be the thing that actually undoes the whole documentary. When writing a poem, you don't want to write about the emotion that you want people to experience. Instead, you have to find a grounded hook that helps the audience come to that result by itself. I think that the same thing tends to be true about a documentary. Something small has to happen and it has to reflect the nature of the bigger story that is going on. While I completely sympathize with Berman about the focus of his film, it leaves the movie ultimately empty. I always kind of wondered how these documentaries always got these thrilling endings. It seems like real life shouldn't wrap itself up as well as they tend to. I keep jumping back to Icarus when it was a story that fell into the documentarian's lap. With the case of The Amazing Johnathan, the triggering subject actually kind of distracts from what the story should be: the life of a man who should be dead coupled with this almost tragic legacy.
The bare bones that people need to know about The Amazing Johnathan is that he was a rock star magician / comedian. He had this gallows humor that surrounded his show. He would drink Windex and saw his arm off on stage. It's great. He'd do it laughing. But then he announced that he had a year to live because of a heart defect. People weren't sure if it was a joke or not because when someone plays around with the sanctity of death, things get a little bit iffy. No one really knows if the comedian is still telling a joke. Fast forward a bit and the story gets even more cryptic. Johnathan is still alive four years later. While he doesn't exactly look the picture of health, one can't really be sure if its because of a heart defect or just the sheer amount of meth he smokes. Yeah, he smokes a lot of meth. Berman goes into the documentary with that focus. But because Johnathan isn't exactly the more helpful subject in the world, Berman gets distracted by a lot of extra stuff. Johnathan, as it is revealed throughout the course of the film, has four documentaries being made about him simultaneously. Berman thought that he was the only one. Admittedly, his was the most serious one of the group initially until a second documentary crew really tries poaching on his subject matter. Johnathan, who comes across as someone unsympathetic in his choices, seems to only care about his own exposure at the expense of Berman. Now, this is where the documentary messes up its triggering subject. Johnathan is an illusionist. It's very tempted to stress the questions about whether or not everything in the documentary is an elaborate illusion being played on Berman. But Berman loses the forest through the trees when this happens. Berman gets stuck in the one element of the possible trick. He's obsessed with the other documentary. From a storytelling perspective, it actually makes a ton of sense to focus the narrative inwards. It gives the director freedom, especially when he's being shut out from Johnathan's life in real time. But because he's temporarily removed from the story, he never gets the story he wants.
The story is about this dying man. Berman does some interesting things, linking Johnathan's struggles with mortality with his own obsessive past. It's all interesting stuff, but it leaves so much unresolved. Instead of getting the story that is actually moving, Berman's story kind of comes across like a pity party. He's complaining that it is hard to make his documentary. He's willing to cross some very insane lines, like doing meth on camera (kind of). But he's not willing to make Johnathan an enemy. He wants Johnathan to kind of like him. There's a scene towards the end of the film where he confronts Johnathan and asks him if everything in the film and in his life is an illusion. It's such a gutsy moment. But then, he backtracks a lot of it. It was a power movie, to be sure. But the documentarian, in this case, is not being objective. Johnathan starts off the film friendly enough. He shows a lot of what amounts to a pathetic life. He's rich and never has to work again. I knew he was successful, but I had no idea that he was that successful. He putzes and does really hardcore drugs a lot. He treats the people around him kind of like dirt. But Berman is kind of mesmerized by someone he considers to be a hero. He gets to live a low key celebrity lifestyle for a bit. That's where Berman kind of forgets why he's there. Over the course of the film, Johnathan comes across as increasingly hostile. He's self-motivated. We've found out that he's done this kind of stuff before. It's Berman's personality that stands in the way of the documentary. If Johnathan gets hostile, it's Berman's responsibility to treat him as hostile. And that never really happens.
What leaves me at the end is that Johnathan is a bully and I'm sad that he doesn't turn his life around. There's this huge canvas there and very little of it actually amounts to much. We never really get to understand Johnathan from a performance perspective. He's this guy who had this whole career and he fell off the face of the Earth. Part of the movie actually just leaves me depressed. Berman's nice guy attitude never really peels back what makes Johnathan tick. He's as much of a mystery by the end of the film as he is in the trailer. The movie is named The Amazing Johnathan Documentary, but I have a better understanding of who Ben Berman is than Johnathan is. Yeah, Johnathan shut him out. I get the frustration of that. I actually completely sympathize with his position. But Berman never really plays hardball. He's servicing himself, not the audience or the subject. Berman kind of has a responsibility in this movie that he never really meets. What I'm left with is the idea that "This documentary is too hard." We get a lot of footage of his parents. That's fun, but this isn't the Ben Berman documentary. The frustration with Johnathan should be in the movie. It is super interesting, but it needs to be a small element of a much larger story. By the time that the story starts, we have the end of the film. Johnathan and Ben are friends again. Is that what the documentary was about? Was it about how a stranger and a documentarian can kind of like each other? That's really lame. Looking at all of this potential and seeing none of it is kind of lame. Johnathan comes out swinging. How much more interesting of a documentary would it have been if Ben fought back with equal zeal? That's a story. We could have seen Johnathan as vulnerable. What would be more appropriate than someone treating Johnathan the way he treats them? Johnathan formed a contract with Berman. The movie was going to be made. When Johnathan fails to fulfill his side of the contract, it's the responsibility of the filmmaker to ensure that the movie goes on. That's when we would have found out if anything here is fake. Instead, we have to simply take Johnathan's word on his illness and all of his choices. Yeah, I believe that The Amazing Johnathan is actually ill. The movie implies as much. But the story, then, is why Johnathan behaves the way he does. None of that really is explored beyond the answer "He's kind of a selfish jerk." What makes him a selfish jerk? There needs to be more to uncover and the movie does none of that.
I read in an article that Berman doesn't care if I like anyone in the movie. That's fine. His goal, at the editing stage, was to make a different kind of documentary. Yeah, he does that. But the ultimate goal is just to be different. It doesn't really challenge in any way outside of a quirky way to make a documentary. I'm going to back to the poetry metaphor with this. Often, I have really good ideas about what I want my poetry to be. I have this moment that I think is genius and I do anything I can to make that moment happen. But sometimes, I need to save that idea for something else. It doesn't belong in that poem. A lot of Berman's ideas are grandiose, but just don't fit in this story. Yeah, he got thrown a curveball. But that curveball is not enough to sustain an entire film. Instead, it is an element of a much bigger picture and he never really gets past that.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.