Back in 1999 Jim Carrey played the late great comedian/performance artist Andy Kaufman in Man On The Moon. While filming the rather wonderful biopic, Carrey was also making a secret Andy Kaufman movie. This was a weird one. As part of his total commitment to the role, Carrey stayed in character as either Kaufman or his aggressive lounge lizard alter ego Tony Clifton 24 hours a day. He also had Andy’s wife Lynne Margulies videotape him in character throughout the shoot, often engaging in Kaufman-style reality comedy stunts with the late comedian’s partner and writing partner Bob Zmuda. The material was supposed to be edited into a DVD special feature. Universal refused to do any such thing. The footage sat in Carrey’s archives until now.
Assembled by documentary filmmaker Chris Smith (American Movie) and producer Spike Jonze, the footage is now available along with a long and surprisingly dark interview with Carrey in Jim & Andy: the Great Beyond – the story of Jim Carrey & Andy Kaufman. The archival footage is remarkable, featuring Carrey as Clifton breaking into Steven Spielberg’s office and the Playboy mansion and Carrey as Kaufman having heart-warming moments with Kaufman’s real relatives who claim he embodied the late comedian to an almost supernatural degree. Carrey also seems to have a strange meltdown at times, referring to himself in the third person when lost in character and making painfully truthful observations about himself. Contemporary Carrey is no less darkly introspective, describing his rise as a movie and the existential crisis that followed. He doesn’t seem to have gotten out of it and frequently refers to movies like The Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless mind as being reflections of his broken mental and emotional state.
It all makes for riveting viewing, a portrait of two comedic geniuses who pushed themselves to an edge that was difficult to step back from. The doc is both a daringly confessional work from Carrey and a loving tribute to Kaufman. However, it’s worth mentioning something very odd that happens at the end of the movie. A scene from the archival footage is replayed just before the credits and this time what was presented as fact earlier in the doc is revealed to be a prank pulled on Zmuda by Carrey. It’s a cute tag that raises an interesting question. If the filmmakers acknowledge that a moment of this doc was a lie, who is to say that the whole thing isn’t all an elaborate Kaufman stunt? After all, Jim Carrey went viral for what appeared to be a meltdown on the New York Fashion Week just days before this movie premiered and since when does Carrey do red carpet interviews at fashion events? However, Kaufman invented fake media meltdowns and that moment could have been promo for the character of Jim Carrey appearing in this Andy Kaufman doc. It’s possible.
Andy And Jim is fascinating film if it’s sincere, but it’s even better if it’s a long con/tribute to Kaufman. We’ll probably never know and that’s exactly how Andy would have wanted it.