Generally favorable reviews - based on 33 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 31 out of 33
  2. Negative: 0 out of 33

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Critic Reviews

  1. A one-of-a-kind cinematic experience. This musician may not be a genius along the lines of Brain Wilson, as Feuerzeig claims, but Johnston has a knack for revealing innermost thoughts in an offhand way that is eerie and uncanny.
  2. 100
    The offhand wit and casual self-revelation of Johnston's best words draw you deeper into the mysteries of his character. Feuerzeig is a music-lover to his bones.
  3. Feuerzeig's film - everything a good documentary should be - is a story of family, friendship, art and fame, as seen through the prisms of exceptional beauty and deepest pain.
  4. 91
    By the time Feuerzeig gets to his final shot--an artful portrait of Johnston's parents, with their son looming over them like a curse--he's emerged with the most harrowing and aesthetically keen portrait of madness and artistic inspiration since "Crumb."
  5. Whatever one's opinion of Johnston's art, this is documentary filmmaking at its finest.
  6. With humor, honesty and awe, Feuerzeig's portrait may love Daniel Johnston, but it won't give his parents much hope.
  7. There are frightening moments, as when he attacks an elderly woman he thinks is possessed by devils. And revelatory, heartbreaking ones, which can make you think that maybe he is a genius, after all.
  8. 88
    No wonder Kurt Cobain was a fan. But it's the way Feuerzeig walks with him on the line between creativity and madness that digs this haunting and hypnotic film into your memory.
  9. 88
    The casual listener is easily put off, but by the end of the film, even a newcomer can see the magic that made fans of Kurt Cobain and Sonic Youth and led the estimable Yo La Tengo, Pearl Jam and Wilco to cover Johnston's remarkable body of work.
  10. 83
    You wouldn't want to be Daniel Johnston, or even know him too well. But see this film and you won't forget him.
  11. A fascinating and lovingly crafted musical documentary that nevertheless misunderstands its own subject.
  12. Chronicles the eerie and oddly inspiring story of Johnston's ongoing battles to survive - both as artist and human being.
  13. Reviewed by: Steve O'Hagan
    Occasionally slides into a breathless fan tribute, but nonetheless an affectionate and candid portrait of a troubled artist.
  14. 80
    Jeff Feuerzeig's tremendous documentary runs on the motive force of intelligent fandom and radiates an ineffable grace.
  15. Reviewed by: Greg Burk
    Some of his mystical encounters are just too spooky and amazing to reveal here, and Feuerzeig (director of previous documentaries on Jon Hendricks and Half Japanese) weaves them into the story with excellent timing and a psychedelic eye, aided by editor Tyler Hubby and cinematographer Fortunato Procopio.
  16. Jeff Feuerzeig, who won the best-director award at the 2005 Sundance festival, cobbles together a moving portrait of the artist as his own ghost, using a wealth of material provided by Mr. Johnston, from home movies to audiocassette diaries to dozens of original, and often heartbreakingly beautiful, songs.
  17. At the end of the day, Johnston's childlike stream of unrequited love landed him on MTV, Atlantic Records, and now a feature-length theatrical recounting of his life. Take that, Satan.
  18. Reviewed by: Ty Burr
    Jeff Feuerzeig's film is as good a portrait of the artist as a beloved basket case as you'll see, but it's kept from greatness by the questions it refuses to ask itself.
  19. With more sympathy for Johnston's suffering and less reveling in the fruits of his madness, The Devil and Daniel Johnston could have been a great film instead of a disturbing one.
  20. 75
    Watching the movie, I was reminded of the documentary "Crumb"...There is a line that sometimes runs between genius and madness, sometimes encircles them.
  21. An uncomfortably fascinating document of a man whose bipolar disorder and artistic ambitions are inextricably connected.
  22. 75
    Feuerzeig presents an unyieldingly sympathetic but always fascinating portrait of an artist whose mental illness became inseparable from his art, with one often fueling the other.
  23. Reviewed by: Glenn Kenny
    One thing not open to question is that the real heroes of this movie are Johnston's family, particularly his aging parents, who for all their heartbreak are palpably full of love and forbearance for their disturbed and, yes, talented boy.
  24. 75
    You don't have to be a fan of Daniel Johnston, an underground artist and singer-songwriter whose manic-depression has kept him from realizing his full potential, to appreciate director Jeff Feuerzeig's documentary.
  25. 70
    Johnston's childish, repetitive tunes prove that he's no Brian Wilson (or even Roky Erickson), which makes you wonder whether Feuerzeig is examining the singer's exploitation or participating in it.
  26. In many ways, The Devil and Daniel Johnston is a beautiful work, a painstakingly crafted portrait of a talented self-saboteur--a man consistently done in by a vicious mental illness. But it's not as compelling as one would hope.
  27. Devil leads us into that dark, uncharted valley where evil, genius, divine inspiration, insanity -- and other unfathomable mysteries -- commingle. It also examines the hyperbolic industry of instant celebrity and ultimately shows us the complex algebraic equation that is Daniel Johnston's life.
  28. 70
    With this film, I believe that the strange and wonderful legend of Daniel Johnston will only continue to grow.
  29. Surprisingly diverting as a case study: not only of a talented misfit sublimating like mad to keep his loneliness from consuming him but also of a fringe artistic community (which includes the makers of this film) that rallies to give him the reinforcement he craves.
  30. 70
    As its title suggests, the picture is something of a ballad, an ode to an elusive character who's both quintessentially human and so outlandish he almost seems unreal.
  31. Feuerzeig leaves a lot of territory unexplored. Why did people overlook his suffering and bizarre behavior for so long? Were they cold-hearted profiteers, onlookers enjoying a freak show or honestly ignorant of his troubles? Are there links between Johnston's creativity and madness?

Awards & Rankings

User Score

Generally favorable reviews- based on 20 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 3 out of 4
  2. Negative: 0 out of 4
  1. Jun 10, 2011
    I actually think Daniel Johnston was mis-diagnosed. I think he is on the autistic spectrum and originally had aspergers, but lack ofI actually think Daniel Johnston was mis-diagnosed. I think he is on the autistic spectrum and originally had aspergers, but lack of understanding of his condition due to mis-diagnosis, accompanied by his drug use made his condition worse. He is totally a genius in what he was interested in, as are most people with aspergers. Full Review »
  2. ChadS.
    Dec 10, 2007
    To the uninitiated, the lucky ones whose lives weren't destroyed by music snobbery, watch Stephen Frears' "High Fidelity" to To the uninitiated, the lucky ones whose lives weren't destroyed by music snobbery, watch Stephen Frears' "High Fidelity" to understand indie fandom. It'll help you better deal with the guy who thinks that Daniel Johnston is better than Brian Wilson. He's not. Johnston is an acquired taste(you have to understand the aesthetics of indie-rock). His music is for people who thinks Jonathan Richman doesn't keep it real enough. "The Devil and Daniel Johnston", however, along with Jonathan Caouette's "Tarnation", is another stunning example of how the proliferation of home-movie cameras during the eighties produced a treasure trove of archival footage. Without it, you don't have a movie, because the subject matter wouldn't be interesting enough. If you're befuddled by the accolades thrown Johnston's way, think of how radical the Sex Pistols sounded next to Fleetwood Mac. Johnston doesn't play punk rock, but he captures that do-it-yourself spirit, which used to be the ethos of alternative music before "Teen Spirit" commodified amateurism. To the uninitiated, "The Devil and Daniel Johnston" will seem like an inside joke, or worse, a black comedy like Hal Ashby's "Being There". Full Review »
  3. PaulJ.
    Oct 29, 2006
    The Devil and Daniel Johnston is a well enough done film, and benefits greatly from archival film from various sources, but ultimately is The Devil and Daniel Johnston is a well enough done film, and benefits greatly from archival film from various sources, but ultimately is somewhat difficult to appreciate if you are not a manic music fan of some sort. You certainly do feel sorry for Daniel Johnston, his has been a rough life, and I give the filmmakers credit there, for this could easily degenerated into a "this guy was nuts" sort of thing. And if you get the DVD, whatch the extras, as parts of his obsessions are more fully explained. But ultimately, for the non-manic non-Dylan type music non-fan, the film gets a little tedious, so I don't regret watching it, but it was really not the best film of the year. Daniel Johnston has done some amazing things over the years, and you certainly get a good feel for what he's been through, and maybe just at the end appreciate the progress in treatment as you can see him clear up some (hopefully not at the loss of his art), but still a bit of a slog at times. Full Review »