John Bleasdale Venice Film Festival

Venice 2017: Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond review

★★★☆☆

Showing Out of Competition at Venice, Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond goes behind the scenes on the shooting of Miloš Forman’s Man on the Moon, and reveals how Jim Carrey’s portrayal of Andy Kaufman was partly a tribute to the subject and partly flat-out insanity.

Kaufman was as much a performance artist as a comedian. Rather than standing up and telling jokes, Andy’s routines were more like pranks that broke the barriers of performance. At one of his gigs, he read the whole of The Great Gatsby to a baffled and then increasingly gone audience. He’d lip-sync to the Mighty Mouse theme and then surprise everyone with a spot-on Elvis imitation. Given his radically uncompromising philosophy, it was ironic that Kaufman achieved international fame as the star of a traditional sitcom, Taxi, playing Latke as a riff on his Foreign Man routine, one of his more conventional characters.

At this time, Carrey was but a child in Canada. Despite becoming the highest paid and most commercially successful comic actor of his generation, he was still prepared to audition for Forman when the Czech director was casting Man on the Moon. Chris Smith’s documentary goes behind the scenes and focuses on Carrey’s resolve to make the film as Kaufman. As part of this, Carrey also hired Bob Zmuda and Kaufman’s girlfriend Lynne Margulies to film the EPK that would be used to publicise the film. Smith’s documentary is largely a combination of this material plus a present day conversation with a bearded Carrey, reflecting on his own career, as well as large fruity dollops of New Age philosophising.

Like Daniel Day-Lewis on happy gas, Carrey obviously relishes his immersion in the character, although his co-stars and director seem less enthused. The eye-rolling suggests this has less to do with method acting and more with Carrey indulging himself and abusing his star power. Paul Giamatti and Danny DeVito look on with patient bemusement, but things get worse when Vegas comedian Tony Clifton, Kaufman’s boorishly nasty alter-ego, turns up, crashing his car and drinking himself into unconsciousness.

As with Kaufman’s own stunts, it’s difficult to know what to take seriously. Later in his career, Kaufman took to wrestling women and then got himself injured in a ‘real’ fight with wrestler Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler. Lawler plays himself in the film and Carrey taunts him mercilessly, goading him into making the fight scenes more realistic. Is this actually an accurate representation of Kaufman’s method? Lawler says not: “He was very polite. He always called me Mr. Lawler.” Or is this simply Jim Carrey “being an asshole” as the suits from Universal Studios feared and accordingly sought to suppress the backstage footage being shot.

Carrey describes how each of his films stands as an autobiographical statement of where he was when he made it. In The Mask he was looking at his Jekyll & Hyde-like comic persona; in The Truman Show he was exploring the bubble in which fame had placed him. Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond is, on the surface, Carrey’s most obviously autobiographical film, a postmodern reflection on his art and influences. But there’s the tantalising possibility that, when he tells us how Kaufman physically inhabited him for the duration of the shoot, how he communed with dolphins and how he bonded with Kaufman’s family, he’s basically doing an elaborate Kaufmanesque skit.

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John Bleasdale | @drjonty