Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond

Posted: November 24, 2017 at 1:45 a.m.

Jim Carrey remembers the time he “became” Andy Kaufman in the documentary Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond, a documentary about the filming of the 1999 Milos Forman movie Man on the Moon.

In December 1999, Jim Carrey starred in Man on the Moon, a narrative biography about the comedian Andy Kaufman, who died in 1984. It was a role that Carrey, despite being a superstar at the time (thanks to 1994's Ace Ventura, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber) had to campaign hard to get.

Kaufman was a unique, antagonizing, polarizing figure who gained fame as sweet, decidedly odd mechanic Latka Gravas on the TV sitcom Taxi that aired from 1978 through 1983. After Taxi, Kaufman cut loose on a wild frolic that defied traditional definitions of comedy. His often bizarre humor, while true to his calling, wasn't for everybody.

Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond

86 Cast: Documentary with Jim Carrey, Andy Kaufman, Milos Forman, Judd Hirsch, Courtney Love, Paul Giamatti, Danny DeVito, Jerry Lawler, Hugh Hefner, Carol Kane, Peter Bonerz

Director: Chris Smith

Rating: not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes

Streaming on Netflix

But it sure was for Carrey. He transformed himself into Kaufman for nearly every moment of Man on the Moon, staying in character when the camera wasn't rolling, much to the bafflement of director Milos Forman. And he arranged for photographer Lynn Margulies, Kaufman's girlfriend at the time of his death, to shoot more than 100 hours of video while Man on the Moon was in production.

Sorry for all the background. Here's the point: Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond uses that nearly 20-year-old footage, along with contemporary commentary by a handsomely bearded and gracefully aging Carrey, to tell a story of two men who pretty much become one.

At first it's confusing. Carrey's makeup and physicality while filming Man on the Moon mirrors Kaufman to the extent that it's difficult to distinguish between them. And Carrey's refusal to abandon the character while, say, chatting in the studio parking lot with the likes of professional wrestler Jerry Lawler (who carried on a lengthy feud with Kaufman during the comedian's detour into being a professional wrestler) can cause viewers to wonder exactly who's doing the talking.

"No one knew what was real and not real," Forman says. Evidence: Carrey, playing Andy, comments on Carrey. You see the problem. It's not always coherent. But it's hard to look away.

Then there are multiple appearances by Tony Clifton, an abrasive, annoying, and thoroughly unattractive fictional character sometimes played by Kaufman and other times by Kaufman's creative partner Bob Zmuda (who, to put it mildly, is a piece of work). Once, when Clifton shows up to snuffle around on the set, an off-camera female voice shouts, "Go away! We don't want Tony to come here."

Even as the film defies clear-cut divisions among its principals, it's worth watching for the fascinating clips of a fresh-faced Carrey from the start of his unorthodox comedy career. "The Truman Show [a 1998 comedy in which Carrey plays an insurance adjuster who discovers his life is actually a television show] became a prophecy for me," he says, "a real representation of what happens when you create yourself ... I was on vacation from being Jim Carrey."

And, he concludes, "What if I decided to just be Jesus?" As Carrey makes it clear, no one is stopping him.

MovieStyle on 11/24/2017