Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond - Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton
directed by Chris Smith
by Alice Stoehr A few decades ago, Jim Carrey was a rising star of stand-up comedy ready to leave the Toronto suburbs. In mid-'90s Hollywood, he became a household name. Now he's wistful and solidly middle-aged. "Every time you open your mouth you learn something about yourself," he says. "Especially when you play characters." This introspection forms the spine of Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond, a documentary about his performance as Andy Kaufman in the 1999 biopic Man on the Moon. The present-day Carrey wears a leather jacket, with a salt-and-pepper beard on his famously rubbery face. Shot head-on or from a three-quarter view, he recounts turmoil on the film's set: "Most people felt that the movie was happening behind the camera." A trove of long-suppressed behind-the-scenes footage woven around the interview shows Carrey disappearing into his role, much to director Miloš Forman's chagrin. He insists his co-stars address him as "Andy;" parades around as Kaufman's loathsome alter ego, Tony Clifton; and repeatedly antagonizes wrestler Jerry Lawler, who plays himself in the movie. Kaufman's real-life family drops by the set and can hardly believe the resemblance.
The material's thorough, spanning the whole of Man on the Moon's production. It follows Carrey on prankish forays to the Amblin lot and the Playboy Mansion, then on to the wrap party and the Golden Globes (where he took home the award for Best Actor in a Motion Picture (Comedy or Musical)). Director Chris Smith (American Movie) leaves no stone unturned. Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond is exhaustive, even to its own severe detriment. The set footage, shot by Kaufman confidants Lynne Margulies and Bob Zmuda, has limited intrinsic value. An intertitle explains that it had been "stored at Carrey's offices, unseen, for nearly twenty years," and much of it could've safely stayed that way. A couple excerpts are genuinely revealing, though. Carrey improvises a fight with Gerry Becker, who'd been cast as Kaufman's father, and a makeup artist watching it breaks down in tears. "That reminds of my dad!" she cries. Later, Carrey sits around affecting Tony Clifton's slouch, his neck jutting out, and snarls about himself in the third person. He's vulnerable here, baring the emotional baggage he terms "the dirt that the pearl is built around" in this performance. The rest of the footage tends to be typical of a film production. People mill around or glance at monitors; Carrey, donning the Clifton persona, keeps up his strident antics. The film features little of the actor's process that's not already visible in Man on the Moon. Yet the abundance of video is strewn throughout this slack documentary as if its appeal were self-evident. It presumes an audience eager to experience as much of Carrey's prep for this role as possible.
When Carrey played Kaufman, he was several years deep in stardom. He'd begun pivoting from lowbrow comedy to prestige drama with The Truman Show, and Man on the Moon furthered that trend. It's a mediocre movie, rotely tracing the arc of the cult comedian's short career while restaging a handful of his routines. Like Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond, which touches periodically on the actual Kaufman, Man on the Moon is disposed towards hagiography. It understands its Andy strictly as a visionary--misunderstood in his time, maybe, but never less than brilliant. Carrey may have immersed himself in the man, as this documentary proves, but the flat writing hinders his work. He's much looser in a movie like Dumb and Dumber, where he can invent a whole set of mannerisms for a fictional buffoon. Carrey spends portions of his interview discussing this earlier phase of his oeuvre. "I have a Hyde inside me that shows up when there are people watching," he says. Slapstick as bursts of id. He shares an anecdote about mimicking his grandfather's rants as a child, then parlaying that mimicry into a character for In Living Color. Near tears, he speaks forthrightly about his comedy's roots in sadness. Stories like this are poignant and, to some degree, unlock Carrey's acting. They're outweighed, however, by his metaphysical babbling, which often drags on needlessly. (He muses about nearly everything save his notorious anti-vaxxer beliefs.) So it is in this lopsided movie, with its marginal wisdom inside a mass of drivel.