The late comic personality Andy Kaufman was considered one of the most innovative, eccentric and enigmatic performers of his time. At least that’s what the makers of this film would have you believe.
I was not one of those people who jumped on the Andy Kaufman cult bandwagon, however, thinking him a genius as some in the drug-induced euphoria of the 1970’s did. No, I thought he was an unfunny moron.
With that said and out of the way, let me now begin my totally unbiased review of the film “Man on the Moon”.
It is very, very good, indeed. And unlike his performance in “The Truman Show”, Jim Carrey really will have something to whine about if he’s not nominated for an Academy Award this time around.
With its highly original opening, “Man on the Moon” is the stuff with which Andy would have been proud. Two key scenes are dedicated to his childhood. He was a loner who would entertain himself in his room talking to the wall and pretending he’s on TV or sing childish songs via a Howdy Doody puppet to his little sister. Later we get a little more insight into Kaufman’s mind: he wanted to be the biggest star in the world, yet his view of what’s funny was skewed and oftentimes remained an inside joke with himself or between himself and equally strange partner Bob Zmuda. As you watch the film, the realization hits you … Andy Kaufman never really grew up. Another realization comes much later in the film: there was no real Andy Kaufman; he was a man who wore many masks and no one knew which was closest to the man.
Kaufman is the man who became somewhat of an overnight sensation with his appearance on the popular TV show “Saturday Night Live” with his “Mighty Mouse” routine. It was incredibly stupid, him silently standing there listening to a record of the song that introduced a animated TV series and then mimicking the single line: “Here I come to save the day.” It was so stupid that people actually liked it. When he wasn’t doing Mighty Mouse, he was speaking in some elfish east-European dialect, playing a super naive nerd later dubbed Latka when he was courted to star on another popular TV show called “Taxi”. And when he wasn’t doing Latka, he was entertaining folks at comedy clubs with his Elvis Presley or becoming his alter ego, the hideous and incredibly insulting lounge Lizard Tony Clifton. It was perhaps his most stunning characterization. Kaufman lived to disrupt, to shock people, to effectively tick them off. He did just that when he took up wrestling … women. It was all a big spoof. Some got it; some didn’t. And when all was said and done, some told Andy Kaufman to take a hike, permanently.
Kaufman’s rise to fame was shepherded by agent George Shapiro who saw him perform at a improvisation club one night. Not even George was sure of Kaufman’s brilliance, but he went along with the gag and if it hadn’t been for George, it is doubtful that there would ever have been a movie about the life of some space cadet called Andy Kaufman.
Jim Carrey, who campaigned hard for the role, has Kaufman nailed. This was certainly a very good and complex character for him to play. I was impressed with Courtney Love, actually; she has a very sweet appearance as she played Lynn Margulies, the first woman to take Andy up on his wrestling challenge and then later become his girlfriend. Danny DeVito, who also produced the film and starred with Kaufman in “Taxi” is very good as agent George Shapiro. And the effervescent Paul Giamatti does a good job playing Andy’s partner and life supporter, Bob Zmuda.
I can’t say I like Andy Kaufman any better for having seen this film about his life. I did learn a little more about his antics, though, that make me believe I was right in my assessment of him. But kudos to the filmmakers, screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski and, of course, Jim Carrey They did a terrific job in presenting the man and his warped mind: a extraordinarily refreshing take on reality. Andy Kaufman died in 1984 at the age of 35 from a very rare lung cancer.
Lotta says “Man on the Moon” is an eye-opener.