Man on the Moon (1999) *** 1/2
Directed by Milos Forman. Written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski. Cinematography, Anastas Michos. Editing, Christopher Tellefsen and Lynzee Klingman. Production design, Patrizia Von Brandenstein. Cast: Jim Carrey (Andy Kaufman), Danny DeVito ( George Shapiro), Courtney Love (Lynne Margulies), Paul Giamatti (Bob Zmuda), Vincent Schiavelli (Maynard Smith), Peter Bonerz (Ed Weinberger), Leslie Lyles (Janice Kaufman), Jerry Lawler (himself), et al. A Universal Pictures release. 118 minutes. R (lang uage, sex)
Man on the Moon is like one of those beautiful, old European squares --which are generally round and called "Place," "Platz" "Piazza," etc. Many are even more appealing because they come as the meeting point of colorful streets or avenues. In this film a bout the comedian Andy Kaufman (1949-1984) what you have is the coming together of talents: the main star, the director, the writers, the production designers, and more.
Jim Carrey is amazing, lives his part as Andy, becomes Andy, is Andy. Stories have circulated about Carrey being like a reincarnation of Andy during as well as off shooting. Sounds like publicity, but it's a fact.
Director Milos Forman's films are all splendid, from the features made in his native Czechoslovakia in the 60s ("Black Peter," "Loves of a Blonde," " The Firemen's Ball") to his American debut in 1971 with the neglected "Taking Off," then "Hair," " One F lew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," "Ragtime," "Amadeus," " Valmont," " The People vs. Larry Flynt." They are quirky, eccentric, humorous, well-observed, and have warmth without gloppiness. Forman loves the unusual, even the demented, which are musts if you make a film about Andy Kaufman. "Man on the Moon" takes its title from the eponymous REM song tribute to the late Andy.
The screenwriters has previously penned "Ed Wood" and Larry Flynt." They too also love and thrive in, the weird. Production designer Von Brandenstein, was Oscared for "Amadeus" and nominated for "Ragtime." Many other co-workers are veterans of Forman film s. The ensemble works like clockwork, but you cannot hear them ticking. The tic-tocs are all concentrated on the persona of Andy.
"MOM" is a biopic, not factual in all details but faithful to the Kaufman spirit. In only two hours one gets not only a first-rate feel for the peculiar Andy, but coverage of a large number of his life's steps: Saturday Night Live is there; so is the char acter of Latka Gravas of the TV's series "Taxi." Also club appearances; his reading all of "The Great Gatsby" to students of Arizona State; the mysterious lounge performer Tony Clifton; the Mickey Mouse song; the Old Macdonald song; the infamous wrestling matches with women, then with the real champion Jerry Lawler; etc. etc. etc. as Yul Brynner would say.
Andy was the truest original in the trade and arguably the first performance artist. He had no comic shticks. His appearances were oddball happenings which puzzled all. The pranks he played on audiences, the practical jokes at their expense, his overt ant agonizing of the public, his sado-masochistic attitudes, his private, convoluted jokes and hoaxes were surrealist, dadaist, Theater of the Absurd. The aim, we guess, was not to amuse but to confuse, to infuriate, to cajole and to insult, to be a provocate ur whether in childish ways or in highly (but hidden) sophisticated ways.
There was no telling who or what was Andy-the-person and who Andy-the performer. One flew into the other. The audiences as well as people who knew him personally could not tell whether Kaufman was putting them on or being himself. But then "himself" remai ns elusive to this day. It would seem that everything he did -- even in private life--was an act .Everything was rigged. Even chance was orchestrated, but not so that anyone could tell. Indeed, when it was announced that Andy was dying of cancer, all, eve n his family, first thought that it was a stunt.
In the movie, he tells his last girlfriend, Lynne Margulies "You don't know the real me." "There's not a real you" she retorts. That's the best possible summation of Andy.
"MOM" is no comedy, no entertainment, not anything we've seen before. Yet it is fascinating, all the more so because it does not follow the canons of entertainment or biopics. Biographical movies are notoriously inexact, homogenized (or at least pasteuriz ed), bent on tying up loose ends and explaining their heroes or antiheroes. "MOM" does nothing of the sort. It is, for this reason, and because Andy himself was a huge loose end as well as a loose canon that it all rings true. Kaufman, that child of TV wh o grew up to push the envelope farther than anyone in showbiz, remains a mystery.
Carrey's superlative embodiment of Andy should not eclipse other roles. Though Courtney Love (as Lynne) has an unimpressive, shortish part (the real Lynne, shown on a TV special, is most atractive and lively), Danny DeVito brings a palpable warmth as Andy 's manager and true friend. His pal-client may have been a looney--then again he may have been just acutely different-- but he stuck to him. And there's Andy's alter ego, the mysterious, obnoxious Tony Clifton, who eludes identification. Is he Andy in dis guise? Yet well after Kaufman's death he reappears to pay homage.
Don't miss the start of the movie. The precredit introduction is highly original.