Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5
Milos Forman’s 1999 film Man On The Moon, a biopic about the career and short life of comedian Andy Kaufman, was also actor Jim Carrey’s major bid for Oscar recognition, particularly after having been disappointed to be left off the list the previous year for his performance in Peter Weir’s The Truman Show. Included in the press coverage for this production was the fact that Carrey spent most of his time on the set in character, insisting on being called Andy except when he appeared as Kaufman’s alter ego Tony Clifton, at which point there was no limit to the stunts he would pull. Nearly twenty years after that film’s release (and the disappointment of going without an Oscar nomination yet again), on-set footage that was filmed as part of an electronic press kit for Man On The Moon is assembled and included in this documentary that explores the lengths to which Carrey immersed himself in the role, seeming to frustrate his director on more than one occasion while delighting other members of the crew (like his very dedicated makeup artist, who gives us the best moment in the film when she cries over a fight in the dressing room that she says reminds her of her dad). The present-day Carrey also sits down for director Chris Smith’s cameras to relive the experience and give us a big reveal that this documentary suggests will blow our minds: Carrey wasn’t just playing Kaufman, he was possessed by him, actually controlled by the spirit of the departed performer during filming. So convinced was he of this taking over of his body that Carrey had an intimate relationship with Kaufman’s surviving family members during filming and even took a meeting with the child that Kaufman gave up for adoption and who never met him while he was alive; the actor tells us that he was able, in this possessed state, to talk to her as Andy and put all her outstanding issues to rest. Smith provides us with a tiny germ of doubt, not hidden but not emphasized, that points to the suggestion that Carrey, who rose to twenty-million-per-film fame for talking with his buttcheeks, might really be up his own ass about this preposterous claim: Jerry Lawler, who recreated his comedic wrestling matches with the real Kaufman in the Forman film, pointed out that Carrey’s behaviour to him on the set was the complete opposite of what he got from the real man, and maybe the “Andy is here with us” idea is nonsense. Carrey has, on numerous occasions throughout the years, suggested to his audience that he is desperate to be known for more than just the lowbrow humour that made him so successful, either through claims of unorthodox wisdom about life (vaccination skepticism) or the choice of roles aimed at showing off dramatic skills (like the disaster of The Majestic, he was far more successful with playing comedy in a low key in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). This latest claim at mistaking the opportunities of fame with a kind of enlightenment is less a convincing possession narrative than another suggestion of his complicated ego, a familiar formula for comedians at his level of (deserved, and I would never suggest otherwise) success, combining gleefully manic humour, awe-inspiring talent and very dark, likely underexplored, personal issues. Apart from the ridiculous supernatural central conceit, however, this is a highly entertaining look behind the scenes at the making of Man On The Moon that skillfully includes footage covering Carrey’s star trajectory in the nineties and terrific glimpses at what made Kaufman so memorable to begin with.
Toronto International Film Festival: 2017