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Blast from the Past Movie Review – “Man on the Moon” (1999)

December 18, 2011

The prestigious filmmaker that is Milos Forman teamed with Jim Carrey & Danny Devito’s Jersey Films to tell the unconventional life story of one the great dangerous comics…Andy Kaufman. His fame was legendary, his acts were daring, and Andy was beloved by millions as he costarred on ABC’s “Taxi”. But, there was more to Andy Kaufman than being some silly goofball who did strange voices and lip-synched to “Mighty Mouse”. He was a brilliant individual who was willing to break new grounds in the comedy world, even with some repercussions getting in his way.

Andy Kaufman gave performances that were beyond bizarre. His acts were difficult to categorize, in which he might do or say almost anything: show cartoons, impersonate Elvis Presley, play conga drums, read aloud from The Great Gatsby, or take the audience out for milk and cookies. Andy could become any number of personalities when he took on the stage: the quiet & childlike man, the little foreign guy, the overbearing showbiz “professional,” the violently obnoxious wrestler, or the world’s worst lounge singer named Tony Clifton.

As Kaufman rose from comedy clubs to guest appearances on “Saturday Night Live” to the hit TV sitcom “Taxi”, his performances became more and more complex and dangerous. No one was able to take him seriously, not even his own family could tell if he was being their Andy or the stage Andy. So much so that when word leaked out in 1984 that he was suffering from lung cancer, many fans and associates thought it was just another bizarre stunt. Kaufman and his long time comic writing partner Bob Zmuda (played by Paul Giamatti) joked that it would be fun to fake his death and come back 20 years later. Sadly though the disease took Andy’s life later that year.

Forman is no stranger to biopic dramas; his Oscar winning film “Amadeus” captured audiences imagination, and “The People vs. Larry Flynt” created a good mixture of controversy, with some positive end results. But, “Man on the Moon” is a different approach than those films. It leans back more to the days of “One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest”, as the movie follows a troubled individual to begin with, but in time decides to take a stand, and make his mark before his time runs out. I’m not completely familiar with Andy Kaufman, I only know of him from that famous first appearance on “SNL” and “Taxi”, but I do respect a comic that wants to break the barriers of traditional comedy.

Carrey’s performance is literally dead on perfect. It’s no mystery that Kaufman was one of Carrey’s early heroes; you can see some similarities in their style of humor. So, by casting Jim as Andy it almost seems like a match made in heaven. Carrey earned a Golden Globe win for Best Actor in a comedy. Which is interesting since this was more of a drama than anything. A drama set in the comedy world, which is difficult, because as drama the movie is almost a near miss, yet as an introduction of an outstanding comic talent, it has its appeal.

The movie ends in a very strange way, after Kaufman’s funeral, there’s sort of an open ending when we see Tony Clifton, the obnoxious lounge singer that Zmuda & Kaufman took turns playing, was doing a one year anniversary memory show for Andy. When the camera backs up, there in the back of the club is Zmuda. So, in essence the movie suggests that Kaufman did fake his death. It’s not an ending I would’ve gone with, but it’s a nice little nod to sum up what kind of man Andy truly was.

The big problem I had with the movie was the fact that it was just too damn short. The movie was so brief that I feel like audiences didn’t have enough time to soak in the magic of Andy Kaufman. “Man on the Moon” is probably the weakest in Forman’s body of work, and after this movie he hasn’t been seen in the directors chair for over a decade. On an interesting side note, word has it that he has a movie coming out next fall, so I’ll keep my eyes open for that.

GRADE: B

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Matt Stewart permalink
    December 19, 2011 12:01 am

    I have yet to see this one, but I hear Jim Carrey gives quite the performance!

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