Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond (2017)
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There is a certain comfort to be found in the method of Jim Carrey.
Having recently appeared in the public eye, spouting talk of existence and reality, one might be forgiven for believing that he is no more relevant than the random homeless person who sits outside your local takeaway saying he’s Jesus.
And yet, buried deep within the new Netflix documentary Jim and Andy, lies the point that Carrey is trying to make, about identity, celebrity and living a life on the cusp of madness, or greatness, depending on your perspective. With all his talk of life as an illusion, it’s nice to see that he still appears to have a grip of himself, if not others.
At the time of the making of Man On The Moon, Milos Forman’s film on the bizarre life of comedian Andy Kaufman, Carrey was the biggest star on the planet, commanding vast sums of money for his particular brand of performance. He had recently branched out from comedy, into more serious terrain, with Peter Weir’s The Truman Show, but the Kaufman project was a horse of a different colour.
Here was a chance to not just perform, but inhabit the character, and it is through an immense treasure trove of footage, shot by production assistants, that we can finally see just how much work went into crafting what could arguably be considered the best performance of Carrey’s career.
Man On The Moon didn’t really find an audience upon its release, but for those that recall the film fondly, Chris Smith and Spike Jonze’s documentary on its making comes across like the greatest DVD extra that never existed.
From a production point of view, there is nothing particularly ground-breaking going on: a series of talking heads, confessional interviews with Carrey, flesh out the images we are privy to, while the footage itself, beautifully edited together to blend with archival tapes of the real Kaufman, reinforce the immense care that went into getting the story, authentically, just right.
Kaufman wasn’t particularly well known outside of the US, a fact that goes some way to explaining the lacklustre box office of the finished product. Essentially a stand up comic with a penchant for crafting ‘happenings’, he would stretch jokes beyond breaking point, until the audience had absolutely no clue whether he was being funny, or deadly serious.
A little like Donald Trump’s presidency.
Often incredibly uncomfortable to watch, Kaufman was a renegade, who became something of a star thanks to a stint as a supporting character in the sitcom Taxi, as well as for a series of borderline masochistic wrestling bouts with women. He alienated almost everyone he worked with (usually while under the guise of his alter ego, lounge singer Tony Clifton), before dying, horribly young, of cancer.
And yet, so unusual and unpredictable was the man’s way of life, and work, that even once he was in the ground, many people believed it was all a gag, and that one day he would return.
The documentary is quick to point out the similarities of Kaufman to Carrey, and yet it never feels forced, chiefly because of Carrey’s remarkably honest and candid dissection of the process he used to ‘become’ Andy.
Peter Sellers, another great chameleon, once said that there was no real him, only the characters he played. And while for most of us, such a statement might play more as a cautionary tale, in Carrey’s case, he takes the concept and runs with it.
You have to feel for the production crew on the film. Forman had worked with Nicholson in a mental institution for One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, but to see him frustrated to find that his leading man had effectively vanished into his character, while indeed impressive, must have had the director feeling nostalgic for the days of Nurse Ratchett.
A rollercoaster ride of the emotional spectrum, the film’s most moving moments come when Carrey, in character, meets various members of Kaufman’s real family, including his father and brother, who seem at once perplexed and overjoyed that they get to see and talk with Andy one last time.
Carrey could be witty and charming, cute and delightful, or deeply unpleasant and difficult, on any given day. We witness the other actors walking, bemused, around the set, unsure whether Carrey is actually de-railing the project, or displaying a genius level of dedication to his craft.
In the end, you get the sense that even Carrey was unsure, as he states that much of the production, he just gave in to being Andy.
Jim and Andy may be little more than a behind the scenes production diary, but its content is gold, an ode to inspiration that teeters on insanity.
In short, exactly what Kaufman would have wanted.
Director: Chris Smith
Stars: Peter Bonerz, Jim Carrey, Randall Carver
Country: Canada, USA
Runtime: 94 mins