2017 | unrated (R equivalent) | Documentary | Featuring Jim Carrey, Milos Forman, Danny DeVito, Judd Hirsch, Jerry Lawler | directed by Chris Smith | 1hr 34mins |
Studio Pitch: Legend has it that Jim Carrey lost his mind, refusing to come out of character while playing Andy Kaufman on the set of Man on the Moon. This is that story.
Some documentaries are informative or investigative, exploring a subject of social relevance and hoping to create an enlightened call to action for it’s cause. Then there are the good ones. The really juicy ones that revel in the insanity of the stranger-than-fiction stories they tell. Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond (Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton) is an oddity of a troubled production that went awry because of a star who went out of control. That star was Jim Carrey, still at the top of his career circa 1999 where the “rubber-faced” comedian (sorry, it’s cliché but it’s apt) just came off a dramatic star turn in The Truman Show. Rumor was that he had gone all out to portray his idol Andy Kaufman, refusing to break character off set. Local news got a glimpse of the story when Carrey was wheeled off in an ambulance after spitting in the face of Jerry Lawler and taking a beating for it.
What we didn’t know was that Carrey had hired his own crew to document his transformation. The footage was locked in a vault by the studio because they didn’t want people to think “Jim Carrey was an a**hole”. Now, years later nobody cares if Jim Carrey is an a**hole and director Chris Smith was able to get his hands on the tapes as well as secure Carrey himself to walk us through the footage. Smith is no stranger to troubled productions, having made the modern classic American Movie, but Carrey sends him on a ride through cosmic pretention and babbling pseudo-intellectual pontifications.
This movie is a jaw-dropping piece of slow car crash cinema. The film opens with Carrey declaring that he doesn’t think the movie should begin, it should just be – because it has no beginning and no end. Then he talks about dolphins jumping out of the ocean and being “tapped on the shoulder” and possessed by Andy Kaufman’s ghost after which he spends the remaining of the documentary talking about his time as Kaufman in the 3rd person. In the footage he rampages through the Paramount lot as Kaufman as Tony Clifton causing chaos at Steven Speilburg’s offices and denouncing that “hack” Jim Carrey. If that wasn’t enough the gonzo performance seems to infect the rest of the cast. Taxi cast members work alongside Danny DeVito (playing Kaufman’s agent, not his Taxi character) forced to humor Carrey’s antics, director Milos Forman is driven nearly mad by the chaos and others simply give into the illusion. Carrey at one point has it out with the actor playing Kaufman’s father as if they are real father and son and then Kaufman’s actual family shows up, grieving the loss of their son or brother and embrace Carrey’s resurrection. Forman has lost control, the inmates are running the asylum. We get glimpses that Carrey’s myopic interpretation of Kaufman might be not even be accurate too. Lawler insists that behind the scens he and Kaufman were good friends who orchestrated their feud, but that doesn’t stop Kaufman-possessed Carrey from tormenting the former wrestler with on-set pranks.
While Man on the Moon is remembered as an ok, but routine bio-pic, the real surreal truly Kaufman-esque story was unfolding behind the scenes. Apparently, it’s a miracle the film was even finished. Smith stacks Jim and Andy around all of the competing layers – it’s partly an Andy Kaufman biography, partly a Jim Carrey biography and partly a behind-the-scenes of Man on the Moon. Then the third act rolls around and Smith seems to surrender the entire thing to a psychological study of Carrey himself just by letting the comedian talk. On and on and on.
I can’t say when Jim Carrey went off the rails – I don’t know if he was ever on them – but the last act of this movie deliberately goes off the rails by allowing Carrey to babble and bloviate about existentialism and self-determination. It’s here where the mockery goes quiet and it becomes ambiguous how serious we’re supposed to take it all and what Carrey and Smith want us to take from it. Ultimately, Carrey rambles about manifesting your reality, how his movies represented where he was in life (hell, there are more clips of The Truman Show in this doc than there are of Man in the Moon) and ultimately just runs dry after discussing the dark nothingness of grim death.
It’s all sick, strange, fascinating and sometimes funny, but an audience that doesn’t like to marvel at oddities and is going to take this thing straight (the crowd that thinks Room 237 is honestly advancing it’s conspiracy theories) won’t know what to do with it. I was thoroughly fascinated.