MAN ON THE MOON (1999) 

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Jim Carrey
Danny DeVito
Courtney Love
Paul Giamatti
Vincent Schiavelli
Peter Bonerz
Jerry Lawler

Milos Forman



Time: 118 mins.
Rating: R
Genre: Drama

The only things I really knew about Andy Kaufman before I watched this film were that he played Latka on TAXI and that he was dead. Other than that, his life was a mystery to me. Apparently, that was the case for everyone who actually knew him because you don't really learn anything about the "real" Andy from this movie. The film is told from the outsiders point of view. This is a story about Andy and how his behavior affected not only the people around him, but the greater public who either loved or hated him. The film is not told from Andy's point of view and you never do find out why he did what he did. Does this make MAN ON THE MOON a bad film? No, but it does leave you feeling a bit empty. Of course, you can't really get answers from a dead guy, so the filmmakers are left speculating about his motivation for creating the kind of comedy he became infamous for.

Depsite his actions, Carrey makes Andy likeable, which depending on the skit was not the version of his personality the public was getting. The movie depends on Carrey's ability to catch the elusive genius of Kaufman...and he does. Will this performance make people take Carrey more seriously, which is what he is obviously striving for? I'm not sure. Carrey captures Kaufman brilliantly. It's like he's come back to life. This will definitely make people stand up and notice the depth of his talent, but he's not going to break free until he plays someone a little less like himself. Carrey's performance is definitely what makes this film enjoyable and he takes you for quite a ride. Kaufman claims through much of this film that he was not a stand-up, but a comic performer. He doesn't tell jokes. He forces people to enter his innner world of humor, kicking and screaming if need be. Was he always funny? I laughed a lot through this movie, but if I was in the audience at one of his shows, I'm not sure I would have been so amused.

"You're insane, but you might also be brilliant."

The film opens with a young Andy, jumping up and down on his bed, performing a "show" in his head to an imaginary audience. His father, worried about his son's mental health and future, forbids him to "perform" unless he has a human audience. Cut to a night club 15 years later and Andy is still performing the same skits and songs that he used to amuse his 5 year old sister. The audience is completely baffled by his brand of humor. They want jokes, not children's songs about barnyard animals. He's discovered at the Improv by Hollywood agent, George Shapiro, who wants to represent him. He doesn't know how to sell Andy, he just believes he's got something special. The producers of "Taxi" agree with him. They want to incorporate Andy's foreign character Latka into the show as the garage mechanic. Andy is appalled by the offer. He doesn't care about the money. He won't debase his talent by being on a sitcom. George is finally able to convince him that if he his doesn't take this job, he will never get another chance at fame again.

Andy's popularity soars as the lovable Latka, but every day on the set makes him more and more miserable. Even an offensive appearance by his alter-ego Tony Clifton does not make him happy. Determined to break out of the "sitcom mold", he takes to the club circuit in order to perform the material he wants to do. However, much to his disappointment, the audiences that turn out only want to see him do Latka and don't like his "new" brand of humor. Pushing the envelope of good taste, Andy starts wrestling with women, making them angry enough to get in the ring with him by spouting off about a woman's place being in the home and subservient to her husband. Nobody gets the joke but Andy and his writing partner, Bob Zmuda. George is worried he's pushing things too far, alienating his audience. So, Andy raises the stakes and ends up hurting himself after getting into the ring with wrestling champion Jerry Lawler. An appearance on "The Lettermen Show" to patch things up between Andy and Jerry does nothing but fan the flames higher. When TAXI gets cancelled, Andy couldn't be happier. Now he can really start performing the way he wants to. The only people who seem to understand what he's trying to accomplish are his girlfriend, Lynn, and his partner Bob.

Unfortunately, his "life-after-TAXI" career never came to pass. When he came down with lung cancer, nobody believed him. He didn't even smoke, how could he be dying? Disbelief didn't last long. After one great show, at Carnegie Hall, where he fulfilled his wildest performing fantasies, Andy succumbed to his illness. There is still a contigent out there saying that he faked his own death, catching us in the greatest practical joke of all. The film even plays into it a bit, but I wouldn't believe it. Though the film doesn't illuminate much of Andy's motivations, it does show him to be a human being just like the rest of us. Someone striving to be understood and loved for who they really are. Even Andy couldn't physically escape death, but his crazy brand of humor still does live on. MAN ON THE MOON is a touching and funny look at a man many people loved, but few understood.

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