Movie review: Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond | Steve Bennett on the documentary about Jim Carrey playing Andu Kaufman

Movie review: Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond

Steve Bennett on the documentary about Jim Carrey playing Andu Kaufman

This is a fascinating, sometimes troubling, documentary about the lengths to which Jim Carrey went to portray his comedy hero, Andy Kaufman in the 1998 biopic Man On The Moon.

Carrey went full Method for the role, refusing to break character even when the cameras weren’t rolling, whether that be as Kaufman himself or the late comic’s outlandish, obnoxious alter-ego Tony Clifton.

So Carrey crashed a car on the studio lot because he was driving with a paper bag over his head; stormed Steven Spielberg’s office demanding to see the ‘big shark’; and took a wrestling scene with Jerry Lawler – who’d famously sparred with Kaufman – so intensely seriously that no one on set knew whether he had been genuinely injured in the ensuing brawl or not, a story that became real, or fake, news at the time. 

Of course, all Carrey’s blurring of the line between what’s for show and what’s real life is very Kaufmanesque, one of so many parallels between the two anarchic comedians. Like Kaufman, Carrey would go on stage, or TV shows, and unleash chaos just to see what might happens – and he says he found a freedom in just living in the moment as they recorded the film

Newly released on Netflix, Jim & Andy is based on the remarkable behind-the-scenes footage of this time that Carrey commissioned, but which studio executives at Universal previously refused to release, for fear it would make the star ‘look like an asshole’. They may have a point, for you feel for all the regular folk around the just set trying to do their jobs and earn their pay cheque as this madness unfolds.

Director Milos Foreman, used to fake metal illnesses from One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, seems unsure whether he’s facing the real thing as he is forced to address his star as Andy or Clifton, seeming exasperated by all the bullshit he has to go through. Co-stars Courtney Love and Danny De Vito take it more in their stride, but Gerry Becker, who plays Kaufman’s dad, bears the brunt of some of Carrey’s real father issues, channelled through his character. And Lawler certainly liked the respectful Kaufman a lot more than the boorish Carrey.

However, Chris Smith’s compelling documentary is more than just a collection of wacky off-screen footage. It is also a portrait of Carrey’s life and a look at the psychology of self, albeit with a slightly mischievous motive.

The old footage is intercut with contemporary footage of a thoughtful, sober Carrey – only now emerging from several years of being a virtual recluse – examining what it all means, sometimes with a smattering of New Age mumbo-jumbo… including an unlikely tale of a roadside psychic who once told him his destiny with some accuracy.

In these interview scenes, the once super-ambitious young comic now has an almost Zen-like approach to life, some of which may be attributed to his time as Kaufman. He speaks of being possessed by his hero’s spirit, or perhaps unleashing his own inner ‘Hyde’.

He was so convincing as the groundbreaking comedian that even members of Kaufman’s own family spoke to him at the time of filming as if he were their son or brother resurrected. There’s surely some catharsis in them being able to speak to Andy beyond the grave, but the viewing is not always easy. Then you could say that of a lot of Kaufman’s actual work.

Even this documentary itself blurs lines in a way Kaufman would approve. Is modern-day Carrey always being sincere? How many people were really in on the jokes at the time? Was he genuinely allowing himself to be possessed by the spirit of an unconventional artist to give the movie authenticity, or being an archetypal egotistical Hollywood monster?

The truth doesn’t really matter. Man On The Moon was clearly a wild ride of a shoot, and Carrey did get carried  away with the role, the archive proves that.  Jim & Andy is just as much a roller-coaster ride, too, doing for Man In The Moon what Hearts Of Darkness did for Apocalypse Now… but with more laughs among the drama, confusion and thoughtfulness.

• Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond - Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton is available to view on Netflix now.

Review date: 20 Nov 2017
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

What do you think?

We see you are using AdBlocker software. Chortle relies on advertisers to fund this website so it’s free for you, so we would ask that you disable it for this site. Our ads are non-intrusive and relevant. Help keep Chortle viable.