Monday 20 November 2017


As is abundantly evident in this new documentary, Jim Carrey is at an incredibly interesting point in his career. His most recent film appearance was in The Bad Batch, a Netflix movie that came and went with little fanfare. If you've seen that film and don't recall Jim Carrey appearing in it, that's probably because his role as a waif thin transient with a gigantic beard rendered him near unrecognisable from the A-list movie star who appeared in Ace Ventura, Dumb and Dumber and Mr Poppers Penguins. Seemingly eager to expand upon (or possibly destroy) his movie star image, this Netflix documentary looks behind the scenes of one of his most lauded dramatic performances, as Andy Kaufman in the 1999 Milos Forman film, Man on the Moon. Although some stories of Carrey's method approach surfaced at the time, the actual footage has been in the possession of Carrey since that film wrapped. The reason he's kept it away? Well, therein lies the story of this documentary.

Placing the film in the context of his career and the other films he appeared in at the time (The Truman Show clearly had an equally profound effect on him and his position as a celebrity), it's a testament to one of Carrey's strongest abilities as an actor; to lay himself completely bare on screen. Although as a reflective Carrey says in the intimate talking head interview that drives this film, it isn't even him up on screen. Talking about hearing he got the part whilst sitting on a beach in Malibu where 30 dolphins suddenly appeared, Jim claims he received a telepathic message from Andy saying "sit down, I'll be doing my movie".

Carrey's get out clause of "what happened afterwards was out of my control" is debatable, and a lot of the footage filmed by a small roaming crew of documentarians (comprised of Kaufman's former girlfriend, Lynne Marguiles, and his former writing partner, Bob Zmuda) captures Carrey only responding as if he was Andy, and some extraordinarily bad behaviour, including wandering around with a paper bag on his head to the complete exasperation of director Milos Forman, and turning up to set drunk as Kaufman alter-ego, Tony Clifton. Notoriously hard to handle when portrayed by Kaufman in the 70s, highlights of the Man on the Moon behind the scenes footage see Clifton, played by Bob Zmuda, arrive at the Playboy Mansion to cause havoc (with some sycophants commending Carrey's method until Carrey himself turned up), and Carrey as Clifton walking around Spielberg's offices demanding to see "the real shark".

Carrey offers no apologies for his/Andy's/Tony's behaviour, and despite some of the cast and crew of Man on the Moon taking it in good humour, it's almost a surprise Carrey worked ever again. Perhaps they saw it, as this film casually suggests, as a movie star desperately trying to prove himself as a legitimate actor and not just as a clown. Carrey is resolute in his claim that it was Kaufman on set, not him, and although it's amusing to see former co-workers like Judd Hirsch and Jerry Lawler puzzled, bemused and (allegedly) angered by Carrey's antics, a meeting between Kaufman's daughter and Carrey as Kaufman has potentially emotionally scarring implications that are hard to fathom.

Having undergone some personal turmoil recently that has kept him off cinema screens, when Carrey stares directly down the camera lens and into your living room, it's hard not feel compassion for the man. Even with his beard, he's still incredibly youthful looking at the ripe old age of 55, but there's something about those eyes looking back at you that make you realise you've probably underestimated him as a performer for his whole career. Putting the Kaufman channeling to one side, this film is a great study of the artist's method, and although they could have included input from Danny DeVito, Courtney Love, etc, by keeping the sole contemporary voice as Carrey's it is able to focus on his power as a performer, on screen and off.

This documentary (to give it its full title, Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond - Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton) will help ensure that Carrey's lengths to go method will go down in history, although in classic Kaufman fashion, it's hard to tell if it was a joke and who was in on it with Carrey, Kaufman and Clifton the whole time.


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