"Jim Carrey's performance deserved a more epic treatment of Andy Kaufman"
Man on the Moon (*** ½) – Andy Kaufman was the kind of performer that would punish his audience if they didn’t allow him to do what he wanted. If they sat back and were patient, he’d give them a great time. And it is never better said than with the opening moments of Man on the Moon, which have to be seen to be believed.Kaufman had one of those rare life stories that almost couldn’t be fictionalized in the mind of even the greatest writer and the less you know about him, the more you’ll probably enjoy the film. Man on the Moon will probably be best remembered more for its bravura Jim Carrey performance than for the story of Andy Kaufman. But that alone is more than enough to highly recommend it. Every now and then a single performance comes along that makes a film worth seeing, despite any flaws it may have. Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs or Val Kilmer in Tombstone come to mind and now so does Jim Carrey in Man on the Moon. But this is just as much Kaufman’s movie as Carrey’s as the recreation of his antics monopolize most of the story, providing most of the comedy and some of the pain. It’s a shame that the film version didn’t go the extra mile the way the real Andy did. Events in his life are shuffled around for dramatic purposes and that’s fine, but why couldn’t we be witness to the full recreation of his Carnegie Hall show, (which is now on video and detailed in Bob Zmuda’s terrific biography of Andy) with the appearance of his grandma and the morning after ferryboat. The way it’s presented here, as a final performance of Kaufman’s, it would have given the film an emotional lift like none other. But Jim Carrey lends a virtual hypnotic quality to the film’s viewing. Every mannerism, eye movement, body language and vocalization is dead-on in all of Andy’s incarnations all culminating in a climactic scene when Andy goes looking for a “miracle” that is ultimately the saddest scene of the year. The writers of the film don’t do as thorough a job as they did with their tales of Ed Wood and Larry Flynt and if the movie has any flaw it’s that we don’t understand Andy the man any better than when we entered the theater. But it’s not a flaw if that’s the point. We are the audience. Andy’s audience. We may be watching recreations of many of his famous routines, with only an occasional moment focusing on Andy’s life, but this is exactly what we’re told during the pre-title sequence that we will be seeing.As you observe the final scene of the film, you will realize that by watching this biopic, you will have become a member of Andy’s world, the fourth wall breaking down, as you witness one final duping that will make you think, make you wonder and make you believe that Andy was a true original and will never be topped.