(Check out the list so far)
The Movie: The Man on the Moon (1999)
One Sentence Plot Summary: Andy Kaufman reinvents gaslighting and comedy while also playing a sexist heel against Jerry Lawler of all people.
Why It’s on the List: I remember being fascinated by the idea of Andy Kaufman around the time this film came out. Taxi is a show I watched occasionally on Nick at Nite, and I was aware of his wrestling Jerry Lawler because of my fandom of wrestling. He was an anti-comedian who a lot of people did not like because of his onset behavior and chauvinistic comments. With years of perspective, I think it’s important to understand that someone should no longer be able to get away with a lot of what he did. Even him being a blatant sexist would be considered the work of a hack in any credible professional wrestling company.
As a movie made in 1999, I think it’s easy to take the protagonist’s eyes. I think Jim Carrey embodies Kaufman impressively. Is his method performance problematic based on what we know now? I would say yes, but within the context of the film, it’s undeniable how good Carrey’s acting is. He won a Golden Globe the year before and would win one for a second straight year (He even called himself the Tom Hanks of the Golden Globes).
The movie did not do well. Perhaps people were not interested in Kaufman as much as other characters. Perhaps a lot of people have not forgiven him for his misogyny, which whether it was part of an act or not, is fair.
My feelings on both Kaufman and Carrey are complicated by recent events and a growing awareness of how toxic behavior affects people, but I think this is still one of the better biopics ever made. There is a focus on Kaufman’s final years. The writers and director Milos Forman really get across just how… weird… Kaufman was. They show him being unfunny. They also show how he was able to find success. Kaufman was able to be the breakout star of one of the top sitcoms on the number one network while being a mainstay of late night on a separate network. Then it all seemingly started going away as tastes change and Kaufman began annoying people. It’s incredible that someone so famous would go to a regional wrestling promotion and just decide to become a wrestler. Although the film portrays the one match, Kaufman was a regular in Memphis wrestling for months.
The supporting performances are very good. They sprinkle in a lot of people playing themselves (Lawler, David Letterman, the Taxi cast) and use Danny DeVito, Paul Giammati, and Courtney Love (who is an underrated actor) as the primary supporting cast. I feel like we’ve been hit with so many biopics that these movies have lost their effect, but I’ve always appreciated this one because of Carrey’s performance and the specificity with which Kaufman is portrayed.
*Jim Carrey’s onset behavior is chronicled in Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond. I firmly believe you can be a great actor and not be an asshole. Carrey clearly crossed the line, and this behavior (especially from male performers) needs to stop.
MVP and Best Performance: Is there any doubt it’s Jim Carrey?
Best Quote: “Andy, you have to look inside and ask this question: who are you trying to entertain – the audience or yourself?” – George Shapiro
Is there a sequel? Hell of a story if there was.