Man on the Moon (1999) Movie Retro Review by John Walsh

Director: Milos Forman
Writers: Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski
Stars: Jim Carrey, Danny DeVito, Gerry Becker

The Milos Forman directed Man on the Moon from 1999 has been back in the spotlight once again in the last week with the reveal of the behind the scenes documentary, Jim and Andy. I’m a massive fan of Jim Carrey, had watched this film before, but decided to rewatch it again after being surprised with the announcement of the aforementioned documentary’s forthcoming release.

It’s a biopic and a bloody good one at that. It follows the eventful life of eccentric entertainer Andy Kaufman. This man was perhaps the closest living embodiment of Marmite humanity has ever had, which for anyone that hasn’t been acquainted with the stuff, is a beef extract paste that you either love or hate. I love the stuff personally, which is fitting because I also happen to enjoy the uniquely odd blend of often cruel humour, art and entertainment that Mr. Kaufman championed.

Taking the helm of portraying the man was, as mentioned, the magnificent Jim Carrey. Kaufman was a real hero of Carrey’s, a fact that’s instantly palpable from the first scene onwards. He went deep into this character, going fully method, refusing to leave the character during the entirety of the film. This didn’t go at all smoothly, as I said the real man was eccentric and abrasive at the best of times, and it’s that very fact which has stopped the behind the scenes footage from being released for nigh on twenty years.

The film itself does an excellent job of charting out his career. From the painfully awkward moments of his standup beginnings under the guise of Latka in small bars and clubs, his most popular time in the hit show Taxi, right through the upper echelons and subsequent troughs of his career. Such as the famous (or infamous) breakthrough ‘Mighty Mouse’ appearance on SNL. And listen, don’t think for a moment that Man on the Moon is a gush fest either because it isn’t. It doesn’t hold back or try to portray him as anything other than the deeply troubled genius of a performer that he was.

It happily displays all his flaws and stubborn insistence on being something of a pioneer at the time, even if it meant pushing the boundaries of art to breaking point. For instance, the creation of the obnoxious and divisive Tony Clifton (a schizophrenic act that’s still going to this day) and his reciting of the Great Gatsby, complete with posh English accent to an unimpressed and ever dwindling audience or the prolonged wrestling tour, during which he wrestled dozens of angry women that he ripped into at will and the ensuing kayfabe beef with Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler.

Likewise, it also explores his personal life, oddly platonic, but romantic relationship with Lynne Margulies (who he met on the wrestling tour) and his strong belief in transcendental meditation, showing his interaction with Indian gurus on several occasions. One such interaction even hints at one of the latter being the inspiration behind the aforementioned Mighty Mouse act and the vitally important, awkward silence which surrounded it. It also touches upon the tragic circumstances of his death and the odd conspiracy theories that surround it. Many to this day still believe he faked it.

Carrey is on tremendous form in this one. His performance, looks and mannerisms is/are eerily bang on. He received plenty of flak from certain circles about overacting and hamming it up, an opinion which I vehemently disagree with. You just have to check the comparison videos on Youtube to see how close he got and he clearly has the passive Kaufman down. It’s perhaps possible that he was asked to dial it up during certain scenes, but overall he did an incredible job of portraying a unique and complex man.

Other noteworthy performances would be Danny DeVito as George Shapiro and Paul Giamatti as Bob Zmuda. The former actually worked with and knew the real Kaufman from his time on Taxi and was enjoyable as the agent/manager. Interestingly enough, they got all the original members of that show to return for this film, including a certain Christopher Lloyd.

Ultimately though, this film is going to illicit the same response as the man its portraying. I feel like it will split viewers down the middle. You’ll either love it and enjoy the intense journey it takes into the life of Kaufman. Or maybe you’ll hate it, find it hard to get on board with the humour or art and consequently find the entire thing an uninteresting borefest. That’s certainly the split reaction it garnered in my household. One thing can’t be denied though. It’s beautifully directed, has a great story, features an Oscar worthy performance from Carrey and has a great R.E.M. heavy soundtrack. That’s certainly good enough for me.

I’d normally give a recommendation, but my best suggestion for this one is to try the first twenty or thirty minutes, see how you feel and take it from there.

Rating: 4/5

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