Documentary - Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond

"Hello, my name is Andy." Steve Taylor-Bryant loses himself in the Netflix documentary about Jim Carrey becoming Andy Kauffman for the film Man on the Moon...

This is my third attempt at watching this documentary for review purposes, as the first two times I got so immersed in what was going on I couldn’t write a single note. This third attempt is again being written with no notes. You can’t watch this film and not wholly give yourself to it, therefore this review will miss salient facts and, after its publication, I will undoubtedly think of something else I would want to add or change, so I can only apologise to the filmmakers if this isn’t all it should be, but technically it’s their own fault.

There’s also a decision that you as a viewer must take before you go into this film, do you believe Jim Carrey? Jim Carrey is one of the most underrated actors of my generation, he is a man of outstanding acting abilities and so much more than the face gurning comic that we remember from the early 1990’s. You have to decide if you think Carrey was acting both then, for the film Man on the Moon, and now in the interview segments, or whether Carrey genuinely did get so lost in Andy Kaufman that he became him. Whilst Carrey undoubtedly has the talent to pull off a twenty year scam I choose to believe that he is genuine in his portrayal, genuine in his belief he ‘became’ Kaufman, and genuine in his modern day recollection of events and his thoughts now. For this very reason I think I enjoyed this film more than maybe someone fuelled by scepticism.

Having watched and thoroughly enjoyed Man on the Moon when it was released, and being a fan of Andy Kaufman, I was always going to love the archive footage of Kaufman and his almost renegade style of comedy and many happy memories came back during the large periods of the film dedicated to Kaufman himself. Knowing the film so well it was easy to slip back into the young man I was upon its release and seeing certain scenes from the movie was endlessly gratifying. Usual behind the scenes edits were great, and learning that Carrey wasn’t Director Milos Foreman’s (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) first choice and, despite his worldwide acclaim, had to actually audition for the role was fascinating to me. I had always believed after watching the film that it was Carrey that had driven the project and was his calling if you like, the fact it may have been made with someone else in the role is a thought that isn’t going to go away anytime soon. So the film has an interesting footing, some great archive and some titbits for a fan to get their teeth into. But underneath all of this is a different film, an in depth exploration into psychology and emotion that, if like me you’re sold on the idea that Carrey is genuine, hurts your soul to watch. This is mainly because the only person interviewed today, in the present, about the facts, stories, and passage of events is Jim himself and behind his beard and smile is a very broken man.

Carrey’s portrayals of both Kaufman the actor and Tony Clifton were supposed to be a joy to watch, a sneak peek behind what we had all marvelled at on screen but seeing not only Jim get completely lost in who he was, but Kaufman’s friends and colleagues like Danny Devito and Bob Zmuda struggling to cope with this new Andy constantly surrounding them was almost harrowing. The confusion about the other stars in Andy’s life is best summed up by Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler who took so much abuse from Jim’s Andy but couldn’t understand why, he kept repeating on the footage “but me and Andy were friends at the end”. He didn’t understand that Carrey as Andy was "in the moment" as they were filming, he was the Andy that had taunted Jerry and fought him, Jim’s Andy hadn’t got to the friendship era yet.

As you watch the footage it’s difficult to see the fine line between Jim Carrey being either a narcissistic bully or a flat out genius and even the biggest supporters of Carrey’s work will find some of the scenes just upsetting. There was a reason the studio didn’t want this footage shown or included on the DVD extras. From an outsider's perspective this is an hour or so of the most horrific behaviour on set or in the trailers and I can only guess as to whether anyone involved ever forgave Jim for his behaviour, ever understood that he, at least, wasn’t Jim at the time.

The interview with Jim Carrey now though is the most divisive part of Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond (Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated, Mention of Tony Clifton). Sceptical viewers will see a man still in character trying to excuse, if you like, his behaviour then and possibly since, as he talks of the psychological effect being Andy Kaufman had on him. Others, like me, will see a star that lost himself and never really found a way back, that watched a little piece of Carrey die during the process that has left a man who is maybe struggling to find his own reality now. Either way the film will have a lasting, deep and personal effect on me as I’m sure it will for you.

Follow Steve on Twitter @STBwrites

Image - Netflix

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