THE STORY – A behind-the-scenes look at how Jim Carrey adopted the persona of idiosyncratic comedian Andy Kaufman on the set of Man on the Moon (1999).
THE CAST – Jim Carrey, Stanley Kaufman, Janice Kaufman, Danny DeVito, Andy Dick & Milos Forman
THE TEAM – Chris Smith (Director)
THE RUNNING TIME – 94 Minutes
By Tommy B.
Jim Carrey is a trippy dude. That is one of the main takeaways from “Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond,” a fascinating but incomplete glimpse into Carrey’s antics on the set of the 1999 Andy Kaufman biopic, “Man on the Moon” (in a nod to Kaufman’s volatile alter ego Tony Clifton, the documentary’s official subtitle is “Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton”). During the filming of Milos Forman’s terrific movie, Carrey went full method and then some, submerging himself into the dual identities of Andy Kaufman and Tony Clifton. He refused to engage in any conversations as himself. He showed up to hair and makeup sessions in full Clifton mode, with a paper bag over his head and the smell of booze emanating from his body. He consoled Kaufman’s surviving family members as if he were actually Kaufman. And he taunted Kaufman’s old wrestling nemesis Jerry Lawler by hurling eggs and expletives. For the duration of the movie’s two-month shoot, Carrey blurred fiction and reality. The result was an artistic triumph – his performance should have been nominated for an Oscar – achieved through problematic and destructive methods.
Director Chris Smith places the sole focus of “Jim and Andy” on Jim Carrey. The movie alternates between contemporary interviews with the actor, who now sports a Lettermanesque beard, and footage from the set of “Man on the Moon.” The archival clips from the set are mesmerizing. This material, captured at the time by film editor and former girlfriend of Kaufman, Lynne Marguiles, and kept from public view for nearly two decades, demonstrates the upheaval on set, with Carrey’s immersion into his character simultaneously delighting, confounding, and enraging his colleagues. There are touching moments, such as the aforementioned interactions with Kaufman’s family as well as the transcendent way in which Carrey made Danny DeVito and Judd Hirsch feel like their old “Taxi” co-star was actually in the room. But there are also unsavory moments, such as the time some workers on set had to physically carry the actor from his trailer to his set because he refused to stop being Tony Clifton. The on-set footage testifies to the complicated nature of method acting, begging the question of whether such all-encompassing commitment to a role is worthy of admiration or derision. Surely, some of the people on the set of “Man on the Moon” whose workload and stress level increased tenfold in Carrey’s presence would argue for the latter.
Due to the complexities of method acting, it is frustrating that “Jim and Andy” fixates only on Carrey’s recollections of his experience embodying Andy Kaufman. Carrey is a thoughtful interviewee, and his at times somber reflection on his existential state and the impact that playing Kaufman had on his emotional well-being is the kind of open self-examination that we rarely see from big-time celebrities. On the other hand, his rationalizations for refusing to ever stop acting as his character, no matter how much collateral damage his behavior caused on set, are bound to trigger some eye rolls. When Carrey says that his actions were out of his control and that Kaufman took over his cognitive and physical abilities, one cannot help but scoff at the self-importance of the statement. Thus, “Jim and Andy” would have benefited greatly from the thoughts and recollections of those who worked with Carrey on the movie. A more diverse field of interview participants would have provided the film with a compelling debate about the merits of method acting. Instead, the documentary settles for a one-sided look at the “Man on the Moon” star.
Andy Kaufman remains one of the most riveting comic performers to have ever lived, and Carrey’s portrayal of him in “Man on the Moon” stands as a brilliant feat. Both Kaufman and Carrey, though, deserve a more thorough analysis than the one that “Jim and Andy” offers. Chris Smith’s movie is worth seeing, but it misses an opportunity to start a larger dialogue about the extent to which actors should go to inhabit their characters.
THE GOOD – Riveting, never-before-seen footage of Jim Carrey’s wild behavior during the filming of “Man on the Moon.”
THE BAD – A lack of dissenting voices on the topic of method acting; a missed opportunity to more deeply scrutinize Carrey’s choices on set.
THE OSCARS – None
THE FINAL SCORE – 6/10