When I watched Man on the Moon seventeen years ago, I was accustomed to seeing Jim Carrey as the over the top bufoon with the chewing gum face from The Mask and Ace Ventura. So, this film was an uncomfortable experience because it presented Carrey in a way that seems kind of funny with his usual face twitching antics but is actually quite messed up.
Apart from the awkward feeling the film left me with, there were two major takeaways. The first was the fact that acclaimed Czech director Milos Forman made only one movie after this, which was odd considering he’s also made Amadeus and The People vs Larry Flint. The second takeaway was that it was impossible to figure out whether Carrey was playing someone real of fictional, because his performance was almost eerily convincing. Both the questions are answered in fascinating, moving ways in Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond, the documentary about the making of the film. Not only is this film a treasure trove of behind the scenes drama on the magic of filmmaking, the real life persona of Carrey, but also a scary insight into how far an actor could lose himself with his dedication to playing a character accurately.
Directed by Chris Smith, Jim & Andy uses a contemporary, rather tired looking Carrey, sporting a hermit like beard speaking straight into the camera as the narrative hook where he reminisces about his time on the set of Man on the Moon. The film is composed of behind the scenes footage that Carrey had allowed people to film back in the day and kept a tight lid over it all these years because he was worried people would think he was an asshole to others. Five minutes into the film it becomes clear that he was, to put it lightly, a gigantic pain in the neck particularly to director Forman who seemed like he regretted his decision to cast a big movie star in the lead role.
Carrey was of course playing the late comedian Andy Kaufman, who seems to have been a big influence to the way Carrey approaches comedy. Both men rendered abundantly unhinged performances in everything they did, both gave zero f**ks about how people would react to their increasingly erratic shenanigans, and more importantly both were prodigiously talented but largely misunderstood individuals. Since Carrey was playing his idol and his many personas, he let sparks fly presumably in an attempt to give the best performance of his life. We’ve heard of Robert de Niro (Travis Bickle) and Heath Ledger (The Joker) staying in character between takes, but Carrey takes it to another level staying in character for the entirety of the shoot, being a source of great discomfort to Forman who was by then in his late 60’s.
Jim Carrey was Andy Kaufman. Jim Carrey was Tony Clifton.
Was he ever Jim Carrey? Jim & Andy is now streaming. pic.twitter.com/JqnKIN2qJX
— Netflix US (@netflix) November 20, 2017
It becomes difficult to choose what emotion to feel every time Carrey’s tomfooleries cause production issues because on one hand you have a tremendously talented performer giving it everything he’s got but on the other, he’s being a dick about it. The heads spins when you realize that Carrey isn’t just playing Kaufman but also the obnoxious Tony Clifton, a character that Kaufman was playing, and Carrey chose to remain in Clifton mode throughout the film. It’s literally like perpetually being in the second layer of dreamland in Inception, and Carrey takes it even further by antagonizing wrestler Jerry Lawler who had a prickly relationship with Kaufman, the subplot of which is actually present in the film. Watching fact and fiction, reality and cinema intertwine, is exhausting and I shudder to think how crazy things could have gotten on the sets.
Director Smith who has made a career out of making documentaries on the making of cult hit films has perfected his formula here, presenting Carrey’s journey as an out of body experience for the actor. With his hermit like beard and sad eyes, he looks regretful for the way he behaved on set but he also seems like he’s questioning himself whether all the effort he put in, went to waste. Carrey was caught in a recent red carpet interview waxing philosophical about the meaning of life and our futility as humans not in control of ourselves, and he’s in a similar mood here.
But then again it is possible that this Hermit Carrey is another Kaufman like character that he’s playing just so he could gain our attention, and we’ll never know the real Jim Carrey. There are references to The Truman Show, another Carrey film where he’s the center of attention of the whole world, and maybe that’s ultimately what he wants to do – to reach out to us, and we can’t see beyond his veneer of slapstick. Much like Robin Williams, Carey has become a recluse in the past decade, let’s hope he’s just trolling us.