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Man on the Moon

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Man on the Moon

Starring: Jim Carrey, Danny Devito
Director: Milos Forman
Rated: R
RunTime: 118 Minutes
Release Date: December 1999
Genres: Comedy, Drama

*Also starring: Courtney Love, Peter Bonerz, Bobby Boriello, Randall Carver, Jeff Conaway, Paul Giamatti, Marilu Henner, Judd Hirsch, Carol Kane

Review by MrBrown
2 stars out of 4

_Man_on_the_Moon_ is one of those films where you walk out of the auditorium completely flummoxed as to why you feel so empty. All the pieces are in place in Milos Forman's biography of the late comedian Andy Kaufman; it's a polished, well-cast, well-performed, and technically well-made piece of work. Upon deeper reflection, however, the initially mysterious reason is actually quite simple: while those pieces fit together, the resulting picture is wrong, for _Man_on_the_Moon_ is less about Kaufman than it is his portrayer, Jim Carrey.

That statement would appear to be a half-step away from a quote one would find blaring from a newspaper ad or TV commercial: "_Man_on_the_Moon_ is all about Jim Carrey!" But when I say that Carrey dominates the picture, it is not necessarily in a good way. Yes, he does a bang-up impersonation of Kaufman's many different personae, from his career-making role as Latka on the late' '70s-early '80s sitcom _Taxi_ to his most curious creation, sleazy and boorish lounge singer Tony Clifton (whom Kaufman insisted was a completely separate person). The problem is that director Forman and screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, who memorably humanized _Hustler_ publisher Larry Flynt in _The_People_vs._Larry_Flynt_, do little to make the film appear to be more than a showcase for Carrey's gift for reverent mimickry.

After a memorably absurd opening that perfectly captures the essence of Kaufman's distinctly eccentric brand of humor, the creative team quickly falls into the trap that becomes the film's ruin. Once Forman stages his first recreation of bits from Kaufman's standup act, the film sets into cruise control, offering reenactment after reenactment of keystone events and performances in Kaufman's career (including his infamous "feud" with wrestler Jerry Lawler), with few moments of downtime in between and even less dramatic momentum to string it all together. There's no denying that much attention was paid to make sure every note was played exactly as Kaufman did years ago. It's just that Forman and crew add nothing fresh of their own, and the film becomes little more than a series of rambling, indulgent performance pieces for Carrey. This becomes all the more redundant considering that Carrey proves he can capably do Kaufman schtick within the film's first two minutes; and in seeing him repeatedly hit the same beats and assume the same postures, one becomes more acutely aware of the impersonation, of an actor acting. Perhaps it would be better said that _Man_on_the_Moon_ is not about Jim Carrey, but Jim Carrey's _Oscar_bid_.

To Carrey's credit, during the quieter moments, he projects a sense of vulnerability and humanity. But not much is done to flesh out Kaufman's life beyond the spotlight. While his friendships with creative collaborator Bob Zmuda (Paul Giamatti) and manager George Shapiro (Danny DeVito) are fairly well-established, more problematic is his relationship with girlfriend Lynne Margulies (Courtney Love). The two meet on _The_Merv_Griffin_Show_, where she angrily volunteers to fight Kaufman in a wrestling match during his infamous anti-woman phase. Backstage after the show, he manages to charm her; and in their next scene together, he's already proposing marriage. After one more scene involving a wrestling ring, their relationship is shoved into the background--as is Love, a vibrant actress who radiates a beguiling warmth here, but it's squandered. Similarly, DeVito and Giamatti also impress, but their efforts clearly lie on the second string as far as the filmmakers are concerned.

The quieter moments also offer little in the way of insight into who Kaufman was and why he was that way. The points covered are easy, surface ones: he marched to his own drummer; he took pleasure in subverting audiences' expectations and wishes and in generally pissing them off; he immersed himself so deeply into his characters that those closest to him often did not know where the act ended and the real Andy began--that is, if it ever did. The last point highlights the difficulty in making a biography about the notoriously enigmatic Kaufman; did anyone, let alone those involved in the making of this film, ever get a handle on who the real Andy was? Late in the film, when Lynne tells him with a smile, "There is no real you," one cannot help but agree--at least as far as this shallow screen treatment goes. (opens December 22)

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