Jim & Andy: the Great Beyond – the story of Jim Carrey & Andy Kaufman with a very special, contractually obligated mention of Tony Clifton
(USA/Canada, 95 min.)
Dir. Chris Smith
Programme: TIFF Docs (North American Premiere)
Please give Milos Forman a round of applause for restraining himself from punching Jim Carrey in the face while shooting Man on the Moon. One sees the two-time Oscar winning director plead with the Canadian-born actor several times to reign in his onset behaviour while inhabiting late comic Andy Kaufman for Man on the Moon. Evidence of Carrey’s erratic and exasperating on-set behaviour comes from behind the scenes footage shot during production of Man on the Moon by Kaufman’s girlfriend Lynne Margulies and former writing partner Bob Zmuda. This rare EPK footage comes to the screen after sitting under lock and key at Universal because execs feared it could damage the film. A return to Man on the Moon 18 years later only adds to one’s appreciation for how fully Carrey inhabited Kaufman’s personality and humour.
Carrey opens up about his transformation as Kaufman in a new interview with director Chris Smith that appears interspersed with the footage. The comic doesn’t make any excuses for diving into Kaufman’s eccentric persona in a feat of taking method acting to the extreme. The footage shows Carrey being Kaufman even when the cameras aren’t rolling, talking and acting like him for the duration of the shoot. There’s a difference between staying in character and playing up the part like Carrey does, since the actor uses his inhabitation of Kaufman to provoke his co-stars, many of whom play themselves in this dramatization of Kaufman’s life.
Especially cringe-worthy is the footage of Carrey on set in the persona of Kaufman’s alter ego Tony Clifton. Clifton, a boorish drunkard with sunglasses and turkey jowls, doesn’t mince words with anyone. He’s unpleasant and unfunny as a lounge act gone wrong on late night TV, so one can only imagine how irritating the experience would be of trying to direct a scene with Carrey when he insisted on playing out every conversation in the persona of whichever character he feels like playing. Co-stars, set assistants, and make-up artists all look exasperated in this behind the scenes footage. There is an odd, unwieldy energy to Man on the Moon that makes the film wildly inconsistent outside of the exceptional performances by Carrey and Courtney Love (as Margulies). Now audiences know why.
The new interviews with Carrey let the actor draw parallels between himself and Kaufman as comics. Numerous on-set characters in the behind the scenes footage note these similarities too, and even Kaufman’s family comes onto the set to interact with Carrey as if he were not a medium for their long lost Andy, but the real man himself. Fights between Carrey as Andy and wrestler Jerry Lawler take the latter’s allegedly playful rivalry with Kaufman to the extreme as Carrey goads him on between takes and even fakes a trip to the hospital after telling him to deliver a punch for real during a scene. The film shows how Carrey, like Kaufman, took comedy to the extreme without considering its effect on others.
Carrey ascribes a Jekyll and Hyde complex to his behaviour as an actor. Another persona seems to emerge during the film and consumes the conventional Carrey with off the wall eccentricities. There’s a manic relentlessness to Carrey’s acting style in his stand-up comedy and early films like Ace Ventura and The Mask, which resonates with a desperate desire for acceptance and admiration. His performances in Man on the Moon and The Truman Show also receive a fair amount of consideration in Jim & Andy, as Carrey plays two personas in both films. This documentary shows off his talent as an actor most impressively while challenging his modus operandi.
Jim & Andy offers a frank and in-depth study of the acting process and star persona. Audiences rarely receive such intimate access to a star’s complete immersion into a character’s head. Smith’s documentary fascinates with how deeply it goes into the strenuous hell that produced the best performance of Carry’s career, while letting the artist reflect on a turning point in a soaring trajectory that faced inevitable decline after pushing itself to the extreme. Carrey’s candid interview doesn’t convey any regrets, although he acknowledges that he may have pushed too far in some instances. Jim & Andy lets the comic return to the moment he achieved true greatness as an artist and it’s as fine an encore performance as one could wish for since it shows the extent to which Carrey committed himself to his craft.
TIFF runs Sept. 7-17. Visit TIFF.net for more info on this year’s festival.