Venice 2017: 'Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond' Explores Truth & Comedy
by Alex Billington
September 9, 2017
After breaking out big in the early 1990s, actor Jim Carrey took on his most challenging role yet - playing Andy Kaufman in the film Man on the Moon. He ended up winning a Golden Globe for his performance and the film remains the most seminal feature made about Kaufman and his comedy. Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond is a documentary created nearly 20 years later after behind-the-scenes footage was discovered in Carrey's offices. The film starts out by examining the task of playing Kaufman, and how Jim Carrey got so immersed in the role he "disappeared from Earth" for two years and became Andy, allowing himself to only be referred to as Andy (or Tony Clifton) on set and nothing else. But there's more to this film when it gets into analyzing the idea of comedy, and honesty, and it becomes a remarkably philosophical film by the end.
This doc seemingly came out of nowhere - I didn't even know it existed before waking up one morning and seeing it on the schedule at the Venice Film Festival. It is oh so amusing and fascinating and impressively deep, more than just a surface-level behind-the-scenes look at an iconic performance in a movie. Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond is mostly about Jim Carrey playing Andy Kaufman and how he got so deep into playing the role that it changed him forever. There's an enormous amount of utterly captivating footage, as Carrey actually had a cameraman following him around during the making of the movie. Universal didn't want this footage to be released at the time because it made him look like an asshole, so it was buried for years. It's strangely enthralling to examine all this with a current-day Carrey interview navigating the story.
Carrey engages in a wacky battle with professional wrestler Jerry Lawler on set, mirroring Kaufman's real-life battle with Lawler (who claims they were actually friends at the end, even though Carrey-as-Kaufman didn't accept that). Carrey also often feuds with Man on the Moon director Milos Forman, who even has to call him "Andy" on set because this was his requirement while playing the character. Carrey explains why this was necessary and how Andy sort-of telepathically took over him when he decided to take on the role. As a movie nerd myself, it's instantly and entirely fascinating to watch all of this and to see all of the footage. It's amazing how dedicated artists can be, and how that can change them. There's also a good discussion in this film about the difference between imitation and emulation and how to give a truly unique performance.
After all of this examination about the experience of Man on the Moon, the film goes even deeper as Carrey discusses life itself and his own feelings on truth and honesty. He begins on this topic by discussing the before-and-after aspects of his life, explaining that it was Man on the Moon and The Truman Show that left the greatest impact on him. And this brief discussion, which comes at the end of the film, is what takes it from being fascinating to being eye-opening and life-affirming. It takes it from being a simple behind-the-scenes doc to being something profound and philosophical. I have even more respect for Carrey now and wish I could sit and talk with him about life for hours, as he has so much to teach us. Luckily we have this film as the starting point, and I hope people take a chance to learn from the wisdom of the great Jim Carrey.
Alex's Venice 2017 Rating: 9 out of 10
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