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Josh Reviews Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond

January 17th, 2018
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Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton is a new documentary by Chris Smith that documents Jim Carrey’s process of remaining entirely in-character as Andy Kaufman (as well as Kaufman’s abusive alter-ego, Tony Clifton) during the entirety of the making of Milos Forman’s 1999 bio of Andy Kaufman, Man on the Moon.

I have always been fascinated by Andy Kaufman, and I quite like Mr. Forman’s film Man on the Moon.  Jim Carrey’s performance as Mr. Kaufman in the film is spectacular.  He is brilliantly able to inhabit the character, perfectly recreating many famous on-screen moments from Mr. Kaufman’s life (his appearances on Saturday Night Live, Taxi, and more).  It’s an amazing act of recreation, as Mr. Carrey is able to modulate his voice and his physicality in order to nearly-perfectly recreate Mr. Kaufman.  The film is made by Mr. Carrey’s performance.

Throughout the film’s production, Mr. Carrey apparently hired a team to film behind-the-scenes footage, in an effort to produce a promotional material for the film that would be more interesting than the boring EPKs (Electronic Press Kits) that usually accompany a film’s release.  But the footage has remained unseen, until now.  Mr. Smith’s documentary Jim & Andy presents an extraordinary amount of this incredible footage, intercut with an in-depth interview with Jim Carrey conducted last year.  Ninety-five percent of the film is from those two sources: the twenty-year-old behind-the-scenes footage and this present-day interview with Mr. Carrey.  (We also get a generous amount of clips from Man on the Moon itself, as well as some great archival footage of both Mr. Kaufman and Mr. Carrey from throughout their careers.)

This behind-the-scenes footage is incredible.  I had heard rumors that Mr. Carrey had refused to step out of character during the months of making Man on the Moon, and this footage supports that.  It is… wow.  It is pretty jaw-dropping.  At one point in the film, Mr. Carrey recollects that he was told that Universal would not at the time allow any of the behind-the-scenes footage to be released because they didn’t want people to think that Mr. Carrey was an asshole.  I can see what they were worried about.

I cannot imagine how tough this must have been for the men and women working with Mr. Carey on the making of Man on the Moon.  Mr. Carey as Andy Kaufman was clearly difficult to deal with, as this footage makes clear, but Mr. Kaufman as Tony Clifton was absolutely horrible and abusive to everyone around him.  There are a lot of moments in which we see poor Milos Forman struggling to keep the peace and keep his film on track.

It’s perplexing to watch, because the end result was amazing.  Mr. Carrey’s performance in the film was magnificent, a magic trick that I think very few other actors could have possibly pulled off. On the other hand, Mr. Carrey’s complete immersion in the character(s), as seen in this footage, seems to me to be almost deranged, and it’s hard to justify such obnoxiousness to others despite how great the end result might have been.

Mr. Carrey’s present-day interview is fascinating, though frustratingly opaque at times.  It’s fascinating to see Mr. Carrey look back on those days, and it is very interesting to see the calm, apparently clear-headed present-day Mr. Carrey contrasted with the madman we see in the footage.  There are some great moments in the interview in which Mr. Carrey dispenses some wonderful, almost zen-like pearls of wisdom.  On the other hand, Mr. Carrey doesn’t offer much reflection on how his behavior at the time might have affected others.  And I was struck by how Mr. Carrey consistently (except for one moment, late in the film), refers to his behavior in0character as Andy or Tony, not by using the first-person “I,” but always referring to himself in the third person as “Andy” or “Tony.”  It is truly bizarre, and a little unsettling.

At what price is great art made?  Is this sort of “method” acting the best way to create a fully-realized, three-dimensional performance?  Or is it childish misbehavior?  The film allows the audience to watch this fly-on-the-wall footage and to form their own answers.

Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond (and I love, by the way, that very funny “contractually obligated” subtitle) is a fascinating peek behind the scenes of the making of a great movie and a unique, incredible performance.  You might come out of this film worshipping Mr. Carrey’s talents and commitments, or hating him as a boorish, selfish asshole, just as those Universal execs feared you would.  But if you are interested in these questions, and this sort of peek behind the scenes, this documentary is not to be missed.

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