Man on the Moon (1999) Review

Years ago, the release of Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond on Netflix inspired a whole new era of interest in both the work of late comedian Andy Kaufman and the biopic of his life, Man on the Moon. Carrey’s blending of reality and fiction with his method acting approach, coupled with the already engaging life of Kaufman, was a recipe for success. The final year of the 20th century saw such success in the form of Miloš Forman’s Man on the Moon, a biopic that documents the rise, fall and return of performance artist Andy Kaufman.

Half the battle is accepting the style of Kaufman’s comedy, a procedure that feels both ground-breaking yet infantile. Carrey presents this conflict rather well throughout the whole of the film. Kaufman was categorically not a comedian, and he would often say so, it was feverishly important to him. Carrey more or less embodies this with one of the finest performances of his career. Preceded by his marvellous work in The Truman Show, Carrey had successfully marketed himself as a leading dramatic actor, and his work in Man on the Moon is a confident display of his versatile range of abilities as a leading performer.

Pairing an on-form Carrey up with veterans of the industry like Danny DeVito and Paul Giamatti and you receive a stupendous trio of performances that riff off of one another with relative ease. Even Courtney Love, at this point not known for her acting, is a solid addition to an impressive cast. Love and Carrey in particular have some strong chemistry with one another, Forman’s direction shying away from the relationship between Kaufman and his partner, Lynne Margulies somewhat in the hopes of pursuing interesting stories to come from the life of Kaufman. Instead of a typical romantic story, we instead follow the various hijinks that Kaufman toyed with over the years. His infamous feud with professional wrestler, Jerry “The King” Lawler, and Kaufman’s alter-ego Tony Clifton are well documented in an engaging style.

Forman’s direction holds it all together exceptionally well. Far more understated than his direction in Amadeus, but he follows a similar style to his work in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which is to allow the performances to be expressions of his directing choices and ideals. Man on the Moon pulls this off very well, but Forman still has a hand in some of the more creatively rewarding decisions. An R.E.M. slathered soundtrack, excellent costume and set design mixed in with some noteworthy cameos from the likes of Christopher Lloyd all suggest the strengths of Forman’s work.

It may surprise many that I’ve been a fan of Kaufman for some years, however never mentioning it since the spectacle around the man often overshadows his abilities as a comedian. Man on the Moon was a film that I had been wanting to watch ever since I fell in love with the art form, and although it took me four years to get round to it, it’s an immensely satisfying movie and I’m extremely glad the wait paid off. If you’ve little to no interest in who Andy Kaufman was or the impact of his legacy, then I’d suggest giving Man on the Moon a try. You never know, it might surprise you.

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