This is a true story about brothers, cancer, and rock ‘n’ roll. “Johnny Physical Lives” starts in 1999 when 20-year-old Jonathan Neuman is diagnosed with leukemia. He’s the frontman of a garage rock band called “The Physicals.” They’re a small college band, but in the mind of guitarist Jonathan, they’re larger than life and not even cancer can beat them down.
His stage persona is Johnny Physical — think Buddy Holly meets Iggy Pop, or “a sweet-talking ladies’ man from the mean streets of New York City.” As Jonathan’s health worsens, and the rounds of chemotherapy grow in cadence, his fantasy of Johnny Physical becomes more important to his identity. He even plays a concert in the hospital while hooked up to an IV to show that he hasn’t become a “cancer guy” — instead, he’s still his rock legend alter-ego. And then Jonathan’s brother Joshua Neuman began rolling tape to share in the fantasy. Together, they start working on a documentary to capture Jonathan’s battle with cancer through the guise of Johnny Physical’s scandalous hospital stint.
Jonathan’s unwavering spirit through the ordeal is irresistible in the film. To him, “the hospital became a seedy hotel; chemotherapy, the scandalous addiction fueling his music; and nurses, groupies at his beck and call.” And Joshua’s approach to telling the story celebrates his brother perfectly. By blending footage of Jonathan in and out of the hospital with animations that illustrate Johnny Physical’s rock persona, the viewer gets to enter Jonathan’s incredible fantasy world. In the words of Joshua, “Jonathan’s story was badass. It was strange, darkly comic, and also inspiring.” We at Vimeo couldn’t agree more. We cried and also finished watching with an incredible sense of life affirmation. Plus, The Physicals (one of the “biggest” bands of the late 90s) score the film with their signature blaring sound and catchy lyrics.
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