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Man on the Moon (A Movie Review)

Updated: May 8, 2020

Man on the Moon


Starring Jim Carrey, Danny DeVito, Courtney Love, Paul Giamatti, Vincent Schiavelli, Gerry Becker, Peter Bonerz, Tom Dreesen, Richard Belzer, Bob Zmuda, Marilyn Sokol, Judd Hirsch, Marilu Henner, Jeff Conaway, Christopher Lloyd, Randall Carver, David Letterman, Paul Shaffer, Anton Fig, Lorne Michaels, Norm McDonald and Caroline Rhea.

Screenplay by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski.

Directed by Milos Forman.

Distributed by Universal Pictures. 119 minutes.  Rated R.

First off, I have to say that Jim Carrey does an amazing job of embodying the late eccentric comedian Andy Kaufman.

This is no small admission from me. I’ve always thought Jim Carrey was not only a bad actor, but the epitome of all that is wrong in movies today. This feeling was not swayed by his overrated performance in the otherwise very good The Truman Show. So, I will humble myself again by saying that Carrey is great in the role.

I have also loved screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski’s two previous offbeat biographies, the superlative Ed Wood and The People vs. Larry Flynt. They have taken on a fascinating character in Kaufman.

So, the movie is never less than interesting. Sadly, it’s rarely more than interesting, either.

Man on the Moon starts wonderfully with Carrey doing a spooky impersonation of Kaufman’s Immigrant Man persona (which mutated into Latka Gravas on Taxi.) Nothing else quite lives up to this super intro, but there are lots of cool (if more than occasionally slightly inaccurate) recreations of Kaufman’s life and career.

However, unlike Wood and Flynt, this new film has no real narrative cohesiveness or thrust. It just seems to be Andy Kaufman’s greatest hits followed by a sudden death. Perhaps this really was how Kaufman’s life went – a bunch of wild bits capped off with a tragic finale – but somehow it seems to short-change him.

Also, as Man on the Moon unintentionally points out, Andy Kaufman was a tortured genius, but he was not always a really FUNNY tortured genius. Too many of his “comic moments” fall flat for us to buy everyone calling him brilliant.

Moreover, in his personal life and his feelings towards his audience, Kaufman often veered well into being a real asshole. Therefore, your tolerance to this film depends on how much you want to watch an inconsistent joker mistreating everyone who cared for him. A tragically young death doesn’t excuse everything.

Andy Kaufman’s movie, much like his life, is a fascinating, frustrating, beautiful mess of lost opportunities. (12/99)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©1999 All rights reserved. Posted: December 22, 1999.

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