Before college, I had no idea who Andy Kaufman was. I had heard the name before, I knew of his trailblazing comedic legacy but my knowledge of him stopped there. As I met friends more cultured than myself, I learned more about his antics and what exactly made him so famous.
Still nothing he did really resonated with me. I always thought he was weird and frankly not funny. That’s why when I heard of a documentary produced by Netflix that explored Jim Carrey’s performance of Kaufman in the 1999 film “Man on the Moon,” I was immediately interested.
Intensifying my interest was the reveal that the documentary was going to show behind the scenes footage that would show just how into the role Carrey got. To add another storyline, Universal Studios apparently tried to block the footage near “Man on the Moon’s” release according to Carrey. So going into the film I was expecting a story on the lengths Carrey went to ensure he would portray Kaufman in the best manner via method acting.
What I got was that and so much more. Carrey opens up in such a personal manner that lacks the comedic fashion most comedians do so and helps you realize the gravity and seriousness this role meant to him.
In the process, not only does the film explore the extremes of method acting and the craziness that ensues with the cast having to deal with it but it explores Carrey’s journey of becoming Hollywood’s top comedian in the 1990s. Even moreso, it explores the reasoning behind why Kaufman did what he did and how his cavalier nature changed the face of comedy including his influence over Carrey himself.
For me, the most interesting part of the movie was not Carrey’s antics as Kaufman on set which included crashing cars, getting black-out drunk, taking up cigarettes because it’s what one of Kaufman’s characters did, among many other outlandish things. No, what interested me the most was Carrey’s near-spiritual connection to Kaufman that drove him to pursue the part.
Carrey created his own scene of one of Kaufman’s most memorable late night performances and constantly badgered the studio and director as they were not originally considering him for the part. As soon as he got the part, Carrey decided that he would not be acting in the film but rather the spirit of Kaufman would take him over and that led to the driving question for Carrey through production, “How far would Andy take it?”
What ensued is not only a fascinating look at Carrey’s ability to bring the person back to life in a way that co-stars who previously worked with Kaufman and even his own family convinced that it truly was him. It provides not only a glimpse inside Carrey’s mind but an exploration of Kaufman’s mentality of what drove him to be so bizarre.
“Jim & Andy” is just such a deep and personal look inside the minds of two men and one I found so interesting because I knew very little of Kaufman so being able to explore him through Carrey was the definition of an eye-opening experience. On the other side of things, Carrey opens up about his life and viewpoints in a way that is almost uncomfortably honest and allows the viewer to see the darker side of a man whose job it was to turn the dark out of our lives.
The documentary succeeds in not only showing the insanity that was the making of “Man on the Moon” but placing a definitive message on Kaufman’s legacy and Carrey’s ability to do so in a way that was very real and honest to the man. It is a serious look at how comedians go so much further than the laughs they provide to do justice to their craft.