Man on the Moon

The majority of Jim Carrey's fans were probably not old enough to remember Andy Kaufman; the man who was a performance artist before the word was defined. Man on the Moon is an introduction to the odd life of Kaufman, who was misunderstood as an artist his entire life. Kaufman wanted to elicit a response from his audience. If his audience hated his shenanigans, Kaufman felt his performance was successful. Kaufman is probably best known for playing foreign mechanic Latka Gravas on the sitcom Taxi. He was also known for singing the Mighty Mouse theme on Saturday Night Live and reading The Great Gatsby in its entirety for some of his performances. Today, many recognize Kaufman as great, doing things far before their time.

The movie begins in a Kaufman-esque fashion, with Kaufman (Carrey, The Truman Show, Liar, Liar) telling the audience not to watch the movie. Then, after an all too brief look at his childhood, the movie moves forward to Kaufman, toiling in obscurity. George Shapiro (Danny DeVito, Matilda, Living Out Loud) notices Kaufman, and recognizes the spark of genius in Kaufman's antics. Shapiro agrees to manage Kaufman, and lands him a role on Taxi. Kaufman's fame rises, as do his antics. He is becomes infamous for toying with his audiences, not letting them know what is real and what is fake. The movie traces his career through the aforementioned shows, his alter ego Tony Clifton, his foray into male/female professional wrestling where he meets Lynne Marguiles (Courtney Love, The People vs. Larry Flynt, 200 Cigarettes), and his concert at Carnegie Hall, all the way to his death of a rare type of lung cancer, which people thought was a hoax (Kaufman did not smoke).

Man on the Moon does little else than serve as a retelling of events. The writers, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszweski, are also the authors of Ed Wood and The People vs. Larry Flynt, two other biographical films. Milos Forman (The People vs. Larry Flynt, Amadeus) does not delve into why Kaufman acted the way he did, only that he did. Forman bypasses the entirety of Kaufman's youth, which would undoubtedly explain something, in favor of filming Carrey playing Kaufman. Carrey again proves himself a capable actor, unlike his earlier incarnations as annoying, mugging physical comedian. His role as Kaufman requires much more subtlety and grace, which he manages to pull off. Here's to hoping Carrey takes more serious roles over his inane comedies. Paul Giamatti (Cradle Will Rock, Duets) also does well as Bob Zmuda, Kaufman's cohort in crime. Some of the other acting is disconcerting, with the entire cast of Taxi (Judd Hirsch, Marilu Henner, Christopher Lloyd, Jeff Conway, and Carol Kane) reprising their original roles, all looking worse for wear. The only Taxi cast member not to appear was DeVito, who obviously could not. The result of all of this is what feels like a Kaufman retrospective, instead of a movie about Kaufman.

Haro Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 58 minutes, Rated R for langauge, brief sexuality/nudity.

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