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Man on the Moon (1999)

After many years the big screen biopic of one of comedy’s greatest figures of recent finally emerges to the awaiting public. Many never knew what to make of Kaufman or what he was attempting to do, and the movie displays this attitude to its core.

First things first, there is no Jim Carrey in this picture, only Andy. Carrey’s performance is pitch-perfect and swarming and enthralling that he becomes the glue of an otherwise sticky movie. Carrey IS Andy Kaufman, it’s like seeing dear Andy alive and well back on screen still terrorizing the easily duped. It almost brought a tear to my eye. Carrey takes the sheep skin and pulls off an incredible career best performance that demands attention come award time.

But without Carrey’s masterful performance Man on the Moon is not worth venturing out of the home for. The movie never delves beneath the surface to discover who the true Andy Kaufman was or why he did the things he did. And if the point is that there was no true Kaufman but merely a stage character then fine, but did we need a movie? Without any inner depth the flick becomes a shapeless reassembling of TV stints and clips Andy pulled. If I wanted to see this I’d watch Comedy Central at odd hours of the night.

Courtney Love pops her head in late into the running time to establish herself as the love interest, but her character like everyone else, is never fleshed out. Love just becomes a hollow foil to Kaufman’s antics in some vain attempt to add heart to the madness. The most lingering problem is that of the relationship between Kaufman friend and co-conspirator Bob Zmuda never being shown beyond communal frat brothers. Man on the Moon gives the reigns of the picture to Carrey, and rightfully so, but then seems to believe Carrey as Kaufman is the only substantial character in the story.

Man on the Moon is for the most part an entertaining retelling of the rise and fall of Kaufman, and his indifference all the way. Director Milos Foreman and his two Larry Flint scribes try their hand at uncovering the man behind the curtain, but stumble along the way. Maybe this is the film Kaufman would have wished, one that doesn’t answer any questions or is forced to entertain its patrons. But me thinks that the Hollywood version of Andy stays true to his stubborn nature, but trips its feet towing the mystery that was one of comedy’s most peculiar influences.

Nate’s Grade: C+

This movie also revisited and analyzed in the article, “1999: The Greatest Year in Film? A Review Re-View.”

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