Man… This one is tough. So I’m looking through my video rack in search of a movie to review for the blog… And out of the corner of my eye, buried underneath some 007 movies and Hot Tub Time Machine is a movie I remember from when I was a child, Man on the Moon starring Jim Carrey. This film is… I don’t even know, it is REALLY hard to gauge. Being a homage to Andy Kaufman it is kind of hard to say that it is bad as it covers all the wonderful things that he did in his career, but then there are serious problems with it… But then there are moments of pure genius… But then the movie flopped in the box office… But then it is being heralded as a cult classic and one of the best films biopics made…But then… You see what I mean? This film is one huge conundrum wrapped in an enigma… Which then you would have to say that that is the way Andy Kaufman would have wanted it… Oh Jesus Christ OKAY… Enough… We got to get through this and review the ode to the Foreign Man himself… This is Man on the Moon.
Okay so before we even get started some of you might be asking just who is Andy Kaufman? Whoever is asking this please let me know who you are so I can personally slap you for not knowing. Andy Kaufman is one of the greatest entertainers to ever step in onto a stage or in front of a camera. While dubbed a ‘comedian’ by most, Andy Kaufman truly surpassed what it means to be a comedian and basically invented anti-comedy. I am not even going to get into some of his greatest bits because my words simply cannot do it justice. If you truly don’t know who Andy Kaufman is then go to youtube right now and look up Andy Kaufman’s Foreign Man bit, Latka Gravas, Elvis Presley impersonation, his professional wrestling career, Tony Clifton, Saturday Night Live skits, as well as the famous Carnegie Hall show where he took the entire audience out for milk and cookies. And I’m just skimming the fucking surface on what this man did. He opened up what it meant to be an entertainer and helped other entertainers to follow their own paths and that comedy did not have to be limited to just jokes on a stage and a goodnight. If given the opportunity I can go on for hours about what Andy Kaufman did for the world of entertainment on a whole but for now I need to stay focused on the movie at hand. Like I said, go to youtube, watch some of Andy Kaufman’s stuff before reading further I’ll wait…….. Still waiting………. Done yet?……….. Okay good.
It is a tragedy but Andy Kaufman’s life was cut short in 1984 at the young age of 35 to complications with a rare form of lung cancer (and even to this day there are some that will argue the validity of his death). So back in 1999 a film was released called Man on the Moon (Named after a 1992 R.E.M. song also recognizing Kaufman) as a memoir to the deceased thanks in part to his former writer and life long friend Bob Zmuda and manager George Shapiro. It starred Jim Carrey at the hype of his career and his first delving into more serious roles and details Kaufman’s life from his childhood to his death.
The film… Well didn’t do so hot. Grossing only 76,500,000 It was unable to make back its 85 million dollar budget and also brought in mixed reviews (though leaning towards the favorable side with 65%) at the time of its release. Really the thing is that it isn’t that hard to see why. Not only were they walking a fine line between the realms of comedy and serious acting (a line they walked well I should add). But by 1999 a good 16 years after Kaufman’s death, the new generation was coming of age who really did not know who Kaufman was or at least did not recognize the kind of person Kaufman was. Plus if you did not grow up with the guy his humor in preview form really would not hit close to home, thus eliminating a good chunk (and crucial chunk) of viewers. Especially ones who didn’t want to see Jim Carrey be serious. While many watched for nostalgic purposes, the film just did not lend itself to a mass consumption audience.
But how is the film on its own? Well I’ve already went through in pretty good detail that it is a grab bag of emotions and received mixed reviews upon its release. But has it faired well over time? Well let’s take a look.
It Captures the Essence of Andy Kaufman
This film truly captures the… essence of Andy Kaufman his attitude on life and what he truly meant to be funny. The more you analyze the film the more you can’t help but think that Andy resurrected himself from the grave just to direct it. The sets are so much fun and the impersonations from Carrey on Kaufman’s various skits and routines is masterful.
It is a very subtle film and is one that needs to be viewed a few times to get the jokes that are even beyond the film. Plus if you are not a Kaufman fan their will be scenes that will feel very ‘strange’ to you so be ready for them.
I Don’t Even…
Jim Carrey’s performance
This… This is perplexing. This role actually won Carrey a Golden Globe and many critics have praised Carrey’s performance as Kaufman as being ‘spot on’ and ‘truly phenomenal’… And I really don’t know how I feel about that because in all honesty I think his performance was really hit and miss. The big moments he really hit like the Kaufman’s various bits and performances to the point where some were almost perfect imitations. Though the Elvis Presley one was not so fantastic but let’s be honest… That is a tall drink to fill.
But then there are the moments where he is not on stage and Carrey has to act and… Well it feels more like he made Kaufman out to be a borderline lunatic. The sad thing is that I’m not entirely sure if this was how Andy Kaufman acted on a regular basis and it wouldn’t surprise me if it was or not but really there are parts where I felt genuinely disconnected from the Kaufman character and felt more like I’m watching Jim Carrey chew the scenery with a decent Kaufman impersonation.
But then Carrey has moments of pure brilliance when he is impersonating Kaufman’s performances so really it is hard for me to gauge just how Carrey’s performance holds up. It goes from moments of pure bad overacting to moments of genius so really I’m not sure what to call it.
(Once again… I can’t help but think that this is what Andy would want so yeah… Then there is that!)
This could be apply to just about every ‘film based on a true story’ that everything is dramatized and mixed up. I do like how even in the beginning they make light of this but I do fill that this film would have stood very well on its own without all the forced drama that it created. Kaufman’s battle with cancer and his professional wrestling stunts were really played up to the point of severely effecting his life. Even the ‘Milk and Cookies’ show in Carnegie Hall took place three years before those events but were put near the end for creative license.
I can understand dramatizing certain stories for a better movie but really I do not feel it justified. Kaufman’s life was eccentric and compelling enough to stand on its own and I do not like how it was changed up to generate a lot of unneeded drama.
This film is a marvel and almost as impossible to critique as Andy Kaufman himself and in a way that is part of the genius. It is a very enjoyable film with rich characters and fun settings. There are some weird moments but that is part of the fun. If you are a person who really wants to delve into a life of a great mind, I’d say pick it up.
Final Score: 4/5
That was by far one of the strangest reviews I have ever done. If you liked my reviews please like and subscribe for more