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Man on the Moon Review

By Joe Lozito

Just the Facts, "Man"


There is an hour-long Comedy Central retrospective called "Andy Kaufman: I'm from Hollywood". It is a sort of "Andy Kaufman's Greatest Hits", piecing together footage from his "Taxi" days, his stint wrestling women, and his on-going bout with Jerry Lawler among other highlights. Milos Foreman's "Man on the Moon" is essential the same thing, with Jim Carrey playing Andy Kaufman.

In fact, the only thing that makes "Man on the Moon" worth watching is Mr. Carrey's outstanding performance. Mr. Carrey somehow takes what could have been an extended impersonation, and goes many steps beyond. Mr. Carrey simply is Andy Kaufman. And, it's a tribute to his performance that, not only do you forget that you're watching Jim Carrey, but you forget that you're watching any actor playing Andy Kaufman. You're simply watching Andy. And you can see Mr. Carrey's Kaufman playing with the audience, pushing them to squirm and watch at the same time, just like Kaufman did on that Comedy Central special.

Mr. Foreman seems to have grown complacent in his latest fractured genius biopic (following "Amadeus" and "The People vs. Larry Flynt"). By concentrating on the highlights of Mr. Kaufman's career, and spending criminally few scenes on his childhood or his time out of the spotlight, Mr. Foreman has essentially re-shot the highlights of Mr. Kaufman's life, giving little to no insight into Andy Kaufman as a person.

In fact, Mr. Foreman only shows us an eminently loveable Andy Kaufman - perhaps as an antidote to his inane and boorish lounge singer alter-ego Tony Clifton. He is a shy, misunderstood artist with his manager George Shapiro (Danny DeVito); He seems to pluck love out of the sky with Lynne Margulies (a woefully underused Courtney Love); and his best friend and cohort Bob Zmuda (Paul Giamatti), the man who perhaps understand Mr. Kaufman best, is given so little dimension that it is unclear how they even met.

"Man on the Moon" plays almost like a stunt (See the original cast of "Taxi" reprise their roles! See Jerry Lawler re-enact his famous slap on the David Letterman show!). There are even moments in the film that play as Kaufman-esque jokes on the audience. Maybe that was Mr. Foreman's point. He has tried to make a movie that is as much about Andy Kaufman as Andy would have wanted. It is also possible that Mr. Kaufman's real motivations were not known, but given that the film was co-created by Mr. Zmuda, that doesn't seem possible. Whatever the reason, "Man on the Moon" is a biography of an enigmatic character that ends up asking more questions than it answers.

What did you think?

Movie title Man on the Moon
Release year 1999
MPAA Rating R
Our rating
Summary Milos Forman's latest fractured genius tale sheds zero insight on it's subject, controversial artist Andy Kaufman. It does, however, provide Jim Carrey an opportunity to give one of the best performances of the year.
View all articles by Joe Lozito
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