Synopsis: Based on the true story, Jim Carrey stunningly portrays the late Andy Kaufman – considered to be one of the most innovative, eccentric and enigmatic comics of his time – in Man On The Moon. “Jim Carrey is extraordinary.” says The New York Post. “Jim Carrey may be a better Andy Kaufman than Andy Kaufman” writes Newsweek. Also starring Danny DeVito as Kaufman’s manager, Courtney Love as the woman Andy falls in love with and Paul Giamatti as his best friend. You’ll stand up and cheer for Carrey in one of the year’s most entertaining movies!
Man on the Moon 8.25
eyelights: Jim Carrey. the supporting cast. its mix of humour and drama. its construction. Andy Kaufman’s eccentricity.
eyesores: Andy Kaufman’s grating public persona.
“You’re insane, but you might also be brilliant.”
I knew very little about Andy Kaufman when ‘Man on the Moon’ came out. I remembered seeing his face here or there, perhaps in a snippet of ‘Taxi’, a full episode of which I had never watched. But in 1999, when the picture was released, I was a tremendous fan of Jim Carrey’s, and I had really loved director Miloš Forman’s previous film, ‘The People vs. Larry Flynt’.
For months prior to its release, Carrey was already being touted for awards, having gone so deep into his part that he refused to break out of character when they weren’t filming – he would end up winning the Golden Globe for Best Actor. As for Forman, he had justifiably won the Golden Globe for ‘Larry Flynt’, so there was cause for interest in his latest endeavour.
‘Man on the Moon’ tells the story of Andy Kaufman, an eccentric entertainer whose persona was frequently intentionally abrasive. He rose to stardom in the mid-’70s, soon finding himself hosting ‘Saturday Night Live’ and then getting a regular appearance as Latka on the Emmy Award-winning television sitcom ‘Taxi’ – a role that made him immensely popular.
His career soon took a quick downturn, however, due to his propensity for throwing a wrench in his acts, both on the stage and on television, by going out of character or attacking cast or audience members. Although this initially helped capture people’s curiosity, it grew wearisome over time, and his many hoaxes only served to destroy his credibility.
Tragically, few understood that Kaufman’s personal and professional personas were in complete opposition: whereas he was caustic in the public sphere, he was actually a dreamer who meditated three hours a day. But even his closest allies, including family and friends, were tested by his behaviour, putting him at risk of losing everything he loved.
While it remains true to the spirit of his story, ‘Man on the Moon’ (which is named after the 1992 REM song about Kaufman) takes some liberties with the events it portrays, shifting some around in time, merging others and also blending fact and fiction. However, this benefits the film’s fluidity, permitting it to engage the audience wholly from start to finish.
Thankfully, knowing that Kaufman’s die-hard fans would object vociferously, the filmmakers wisely chose to warn audiences right from the start – not with the standard opening caption, but with a brilliant intro from Jim Carrey as Kaufman. I loved this opening because it sets the stage for audiences who are unfamiliar with Kaufman’s unusual performance style.
Carrey is terrific, of course. After ‘The Truman Show‘, he was finally expanding into more serious territory, developing his thespian ability to a greater degree. Still, I couldn’t help but see Carrey in the part, no matter how in-character he remained in between takes; he has certain mannerisms and facial expressions that are so distinctly his.
The rest of the cast is also terrific, with Danny DeVito playing Kaufman’s agent, Paul Giamatti as his best friend and writing partner and even Courtney Love doing well as his girlfriend. The most fascinating casting of all, however, are the number of former Kaufman colleagues (notably the cast of ‘Taxi’) playing their younger selves. What a coup!
The most interesting thing about ‘Man on the Moon’, though, is how it manages to build up and sustain the Kaufman mystique by being ambiguous enough that we rarely know what’s real, and what’s not. With every potential hoax, it leaves the audience guessing by tossing one red herring after the next. And in the end, we aren’t sure we know the truth.
This left me with a couple of notable questions towards the end: What’s the story with Kaufman’s funeral reel? According to this picture, he would have had to have a fair bit of foresight to pull it off. And as for Tony Clifton showing up at the very end… if it wasn’t Andy or Bob, then who was it? Was it Andy’s brother Michael? The film won’t divulge this secret.
‘Man on the Moon’ is an engrossing picture throughout. Its mixture of humour and drama already make it a breeze to watch, but throw in a brilliantly eccentric, neurotic character like Kaufman and one is naturally captivated. Interestingly, Kaufman wasn’t a comedian, per se: he was a shock artist, infuriating people even more than he made them laugh.
Although he wanted to reach out to the world, in the end, all he did was alienate it.
Date of viewing: June 25, 2015