"Man on the Moon"

The DVD of Milos Forman's smart Andy Kaufman biopic misses a chance to illuminate the comedian's real-life weirdness.


Jeff Stark
July 6, 2000 11:00PM (UTC)

"Man on the Moon"
Directed by Milos Forman
Starring Jim Carrey, Danny DeVito, Courtney Love, Paul Giamatti
Universal; widescreen, 2.35 aspect ratio
Extras: Two R.E.M. music videos, short publicity video, short footage of Andy Kaufman

When Jim Carrey was robbed of an Oscar nomination for his role as comic Andy Kaufman in "Man on the Moon," some wag guessed that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences wasn't really slighting him, it was taking a final shot at Kaufman himself. The reasoning went that Carrey, one of the most likable actors in movies, so transformed himself that some audiences, presumably the same ones that didn't get the real Kaufman before he died of cancer in 1984, didn't really understand or empathize with the character. It wasn't a Jim Carrey movie, they complained: It was an Andy Kaufman picture.

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Odd. Director Milos Forman hung the film on a series of Kaufman sketches perfectly executed by Carrey: The actor mimicked Elvis, he sang along to the "Mighty Mouse" theme song, he wobbled as a down-and-out lounge singer, he grappled with women and declared himself the "Inter-Gender Wrestling Champion." And the film was smartly structured in a way that gave the loose story of a funny man who got sick and died a bit of emotional ballast, while at the same time letting the audience in on the jokes: a luxury never afforded to Kaufman's real-life fans, who could pay for a show and end up seeing him eat potatoes and take a nap in a sleeping bag.

The extra features on the DVD don't offer much to explain the enigma of Kaufman. It's a shame that neither Forman (or screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski) nor Carrey sat down for an audio commentary track. (Blame it on the Oscar snub.) Without that, viewers are stuck with the fairly self-serving 20-minute publicity video, which spends a lot of time alluding to the bogus rumors that Kaufman faked his own death. (The studio spent a hefty chunk of marketing money to pay a group that promised to start a controversy on the Web; it never went anywhere.) The only revelations, both of which were probably picked up by "Entertainment Tonight" when the film debuted: Carrey never broke character on the set -- whether the cameras were on or off -- and Andy's real-life girlfriend, Lynne Margulies, and pal Bob Zmuda found Carrey's performance so convincing that they imagined they had the comedian back for the four months of the filming.

Two R.E.M. videos -- "Man on the Moon" and "The Great Beyond," written expressly for the movie -- are simply R.E.M. videos, and the Kaufman footage that accompanies a written bio is a big letdown. Original Kaufman material isn't hard to find, and it's a shame more of it isn't included here. If you've never seen either the "Midnight Special" Kaufman episode or his "I'm From Hollywood" video, you might end up thinking that Carrey is an even better Kaufman than Kaufman was. Or something like that.

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Jeff Stark

Jeff Stark is the associate editor of Salon Arts and Entertainment.

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