Thursday, 7 December 2017

Movie Review: Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond (2017)



www.thegaia.org
Jim Carrey has never really gotten the credit he deserves as a singular being. His grand heyday in the 80’s and 90’s is treated for what it is, him at the peak of his rubber-faced and highly energetic game, but that’s also the big thing associated with him. Now, while I myself personally love the guy’s work in that mode, admitting that also ends up discarding everything else that the man has done on the big screen. It disregards the painfully emotional performance he gave in Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, or the genuinely confronting portrayal of The Number 23, or the truly perfect depiction he gave of comedic legend Andy Kaufman in Miloš Forman’s 1999 classic Man On The Moon.

It’s as if these two worlds, Jim Carrey as the comedian and Jim Carrey as the actor, never managed to collide in a way that made the world appreciate that he was both. I see it, I recognize it and I consider him my personal favourite actor because of it. I don’t see anything special in making that announcement; I’m just putting my bias right on the table like always before getting into a review (provided I can even be bothered to write an introduction for a review nowadays for admission of bias to even exist in). So, when this documentary about the making of Man On The Moon popped up on NetFlix, it immediately had my attention and I knew I had to cover it before the year was out. But I don’t think anything, not even my pre-existing love for the actor in question, could have prepared me for this. This is Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – Featuring A Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention Of Tony Clifton.

The plot (such as it is): On the set for Man On The Moon, leading actor Jim Carrey hired documentarian Lynne Margulies, Andy Kaufman’s real-life girlfriend, to film him during the making of the film. Twenty years later, after collecting dust in Jim’s office, he presents the footage with the help of director Chris Smith and, along with new interview footage of Jim, show just what kind of madness he put into the production.

The mark of a truly great actor, paradoxically enough, is how they are able to describe their acting method. Not actually acting or playing a character, but being able to put that process into words that resonate. To say Jim Carrey manages to do exactly that would be to undersell how little of him we actually see in this film. Well, as far as he’s concerned, at least. As we see the archive footage of him acting out in the film and in-between shots, the man never steps out of character. This isn’t exactly a new phenomenon in the realm of acting; hell, when filming The Disaster Artist, James Franco kept in character even when the cameras weren’t rolling. But here, with how the surrounding cast and crew react to Carrey’s persona in all its eccentricity, it becomes less performance and more séance. Like he’s just a body that the real Andy Kaufman and Tony Clifton are inhabiting. It’s as if all of Kaufman’s reality-bending stunts were just the lead-up to the greatest prank of all time: Coming back from the dead and possessing the body of another.

And indeed, as we see his cast and crew start to play along with him being the real Kaufman, the results range from the aggravated to the bemused to the disarming. Part of why people tend to mythologize the dead is that it’s a way of giving a person life beyond death; a means by which a person’s death doesn’t have to be immediately addressed, not if they continue to exist. Here, we see that get turned on its head as the presence of Andy Kaufman on the set awakens surprising emotions in those around him and even give some of them a chance for closure. It’s otherworldly possession as a form of personal therapy, both for Carrey and those who interact with him.

It’s incredibly strange to think about but, as described by Carrey himself, it’s difficult not to think about. As captivating as the archive footage is, it’s the insight that Carrey is able to bring through the fresh interview footage that makes it stick. All documentaries are made up of three components: Timing, context and insight. The timing is inherent in all forms of journalism, which documentary filmmaking might share a closer connection to than filmmaking as a whole. Pulling tricks and sparking outrage just to make the headlines is one thing, but the truly unforgettable and important stuff usually only comes to light because someone just happened to capture it in action. Not by design but by blind luck. With the archive footage, that first box is already ticked. The context comes courtesy of Carrey’s insane amount of self-reflection, as the scope goes beyond just Man On The Moon and he ends up contextualizing basically his entire filmography. He marks down specific mindsets and feelings he had with certain films, and even shares an anecdote about a palm reader who revealed to him just how lucrative 1994 would become for him. Not only that, through how he reflects on how he is at the time of recording the new footage, we see how a lot of what he has done in film, particularly portraying Andy Kaufman, would affect his worldview and his actions.

But what about the insight? I mean, so long as fascinating looks into method acting aren’t enough insight to carry a film, apparently. Well, this is where the line between Jim Carrey himself and Jim Carrey as Andy Kaufman really starts to blur. As he describes Andy’s childhood, and what led him to becoming the godfather of our 21st century understanding of comedy, he also delves into his own past before Hollywood. He made his initial mark as an impressionist, much like Andy, and even though Carrey in the present traces his personality to the roles he’s played, he tended to stick with the persona. He wanted to be someone who didn’t worry about how his performances were judged, only that they got laughter in response. Carrey describes himself in that zone as a man who is free from concern, someone who only exists as the audience wills it. And that, ultimately, is what comedy does. It may reflect reality and be largely informed by it, but when people sit down for a funny movie or go out to a live stand-up show, they don’t do it to learn more about the world. They do it to have a good laugh, to enjoy themselves, to get away from things in the world that may concern them. It’s a fundamentally absurd notion, that comedy only serves as a means to escape reality rather than deal with it, but that’s how both Jim and Andy operate. They are absurdists. They are the ones who deconstruct reality to suit their needs, even if it means breaking the laws that hold reality together in order to do it. With that much in common, it’s no wonder that Jim Carrey was as perfect a fit for the role as he was.

All in all, this takes all of the reality-bending of the original film and, through a collection of events that are truly stranger than fiction, pushes them until reality is all but broken. Between the extensive behind-the-scenes footage and Jim Carrey’s amazing level of personal insight, Jim & Andy is a look at how the roles we play end up affecting us even long after we stop playing them. As easy as it is to isolate this as just a natural extension of Andy Kaufman’s comedic ethos, it also touches on aspects of acting, performance art and just filmmaking in general that will likely inspire quite a few heavy post-viewing conversations. I had a rather high opinion of Jim Carrey already going into this, but having sat through this, there is now no doubt in my mind that he deserves to be recognized for the impeccable talent that he is. I can only hope that, when Carrey inevitably ends up leaving for the Great Beyond himself, he can inspire something even half as poignant as this in his wake. It ranks higher than Get Out, which may have been more salient in its points but it also required dipping into rather silly areas to reach them. This film, even for as bombastic as it gets, always keeps its feet on the ground and it makes the heady ideas within work even better because of it. However, for as good as this is, it still doesn’t reach that level of essential viewing as Silence, a film whose sentiment I can only hope imbeds itself into the collective unconscious because of how vital it is.

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