A film review by Craig J. Koban November 30, 2017

RANK: #25



2017, No MPAA Rating, 93 mins.


A documentary directed by Chris Smith 


Nearly twenty years ago when I heard that Jim Carrey was going to be playing Andy Kaufman in the Milos Forman directed biopic MAN ON THE MOON it felt like a cinematic marriage made in heaven.  

Kaufman himself made a huge and notorious name for himself as a cult comic until his cancer related death in 1984, whose absurdist antics on shows like TAXI, SNL and appearances on Late Night with David Letterman were largely well ahead of their time and the stuff of performance art legend.  Carrey himself is a different kind of unorthodox comic animal, who at the time of his casting in Forman's film was on the cusp of his celebrity and movie superstardom, but he was also looking for avenues to infuse his then developing dramatic chops into his roles.  Playing Kaufman felt like a perfect fit for the rubber faced imitator in Carrey, not to mention that - upon watching the film in 1999 - you gained an overwhelming appreciation that the Canadian actor really deep dived into the mindset of Kaufman.  Carrey won a Golden Globe for his tour de force work, but how he escaped an Oscar nomination is beyond me.   

This brings me to the new Netflix exclusive documentary - and to quote its full title -  JIM AND ANDY: THE GREAT BEYOND - FEATURING A VERY SPECIAL, CONTRACTUALLY OBLIGATED MENTION OF TONY CLIFTON - that is startling and eerily hypnotic in its revelations as to just how fully - and some would say fanatically and unhealthily - Carrey fully submerged himself with the guise of Kaufman for the sake of movie craftsmanship.  Industry rumors have abounded about the very crazy lengths that Carrey went to in order to "stay in character," and behind the scenes video footage from the making of MAN ON THE MOON - shot largely by Kaufman widow Lynne Margulies and friend and creative collaborator Bob Zmuda - has been locked away in Carrey's offices for two decades, mostly at the insistence of studio brass, seeing as they feared releasing it would have greatly tarnished the star's reputation.   



JIM AND ANDY ostensibly exists as a showpiece for this long lost backstage footage, but director Chris Smith juxtaposes those clips with a first person positioned interview with Carrey himself, who physically looks much, much older now (especially with his hippie length grey beard) and is ask to respond intimately to not only questions about his time on the set of MAN ON THE MOON, but also about his life, times, and career as a whole in terms of how it was affected by playing Kaufman.  The doc's opening is hypnotic, displaying that perhaps the ghostly essence of Kaufman hasn't fully left Carrey.  "How do you want to start this movie?," asks an off screen Smith.  Carrey hesitates, and then proceeds to look right into the camera and deadpans, "I wouldn't start it at all.  It would already have been.  And it wouldn't end either." 

What makes JIM AND ANDY so thoroughly enthralling throughout its all to brief 90 minute running time is that it tells a dual narrative about the emergence of both Kaufman and Carrey on the comedic scene and how inordinately similar both were in terms of career starts and future trajectory.  Both dealt with early career failures and setbacks, both had early success on television, and both made deeply weird public appearances on late night talk shows, but Kaufman didn't achieve Carrey's meteoric success in movies (when Carrey was cast in MAN ON THE MOON he was one of the highest paid actors in the industry after box office successes like ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE, DUMB AND DUMBER, and THE MASK).  JIM AND ANDY suggests that the two were such mirrored reflections of the other in so many ways that Carrey saw this as a golden opportunity to engage in some stunt method acting that, no doubt, upset and frustrated an endless number of this co-stars and crew members as a whole.   

And boy...did Carrey ever.  

Through incredible footage, we see him remaining in character as Kaufman - and sometimes as his crude lounge singer alter ego Tony Clifton - throughout what appears to be every waking moment of the MAN ON THE MOON shoot.  I mean, on the set, in-between takes, in the dressing and makeup rooms, off set, and, hell, even venues outside of the studio lot (like, in one instance, an impromptu visit to Steven Spielberg's production company).  We see the fully entranced Carrey treat everyone around him as Kaufman would have, with targets as high ranking as Forman himself, who's shown at various stages of the doc in the footage looking like a seriously agitated filmmaker that could strangle his star at any moment. 

By Carrey's own humorous admission in the film spanning interview, he discusses the security surrounding this footage from leaking, mostly because his bosses felt like people would think the happy-go-lucky comic would "come off like an asshole" if it hit the press.  They may have had a point.  Considering the multitude of harassment claims that have befallen many an industry veteran as of late, watching Carrey's wanton recklessness at times as Kaufman can be quite an unnerving watch (he even makes a poor hair stylist cry at one point because of his unwillingness to break character).  One of JIM AND ANDY's most outrageous montages shows Carrey prepping himself for recreating the moments in Kaufman's career when he had verbal and physical altercations with pro wrestler Jerry Lawler on Late Night with David Letterman and in the squared circle, the latter which involved Lawler manhandling Kaufman by dropping him on his head and putting the injured comic in a neck brace.  For the purposes of full performance immersion, Carrey dangerously commits himself to Kaufman by even taunting Lawler on set while in character.  When Forman insisted on using a stunt double for the in-ring portion of the recreation Carrey refused, and his antagonistic hostility directed at Lawler led to the wrestler throwing him down hard on the matt in an angry fit.  In the footage we can see the motionless Carrey call for help and he's fitted with a neck brace and taken off on a stretcher.  


In the doc's more sobering moments, Carrey relays how playing Kaufman was like a "good" Mr. Hyde coming out during the duration of the film shoot, never allowing for Dr. Jekyll to break on through.  There's a sense that Carrey perhaps regrets some of behind-the-scenes drama, with elements of Kaufman's personality still being stuck with him for months afterwards.  Even some of the film's stars, like Danny DeVito, state in the footage that Carrey "only came to work for two days during filming."  Nevertheless, Carrey is refreshingly candid, if not sometimes oddly cryptic about this whole performance ordeal, but the doc does show a vastly different side to his personality that frequently never sees the light of day in press junkets and appearances.  There's a profound sadness in Carrey's eyes as he, during one painful anecdote, talks about his father's influence on his life and how him losing his job at middle age and rendering his family ostensibly homeless changed him.  Carrey also has trouble holding back tears as he tries to explain how saddening it was for his father to pass away just at the time when he was achieving industry dominance. 

Carrey, no doubt, comes off as...well...a pretty weird, but ferociously committed artist in the doc, both as an actor and interview subject.  He's capable of being both remarkably forthcoming and slyly standoffish in his remarks and recollections.  JIM AND ANDY provides invaluable fly-on-the-wall insights into the actor's psyche and what really made him tick on set, not to mention how his zealot-like thirst for fully becoming Kaufman perhaps did more harm on him than good (he's never fully achieved a level of dramatic prominence in the movie industry since MAN ON THE MOON's release, and has subsequently seen his career somewhat stall over the last few years).  Yet, I applaud Carrey in this doc for his candor and willingness to drum up the distant past in surprisingly enlightening ways, even when it comes to exorcising some of his personal demons.  And at a scant 95 minutes, I personally think that the doc's minor creative sin is that it could have even been longer.  

Yet, JIM AND ANDY: THE GREAT BEYOND is a superbly compelling portrait of the intersection between art and life and how the grey area between performance art and the reality beyond it becomes lost in the process.  As a warts and all expose on the lengths some will go for their craft, the doc is superbly enlightening as well as more than a bit unnerving to sit through.  At the same time, though, Carrey's steadfast dedication to his performance art stunt would have made Kaufman proud.

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