If a person pushes himself beyond all creative objections in efforts of making something great, does that mean their efforts are futile if that something kind of sucks? That’s a question that one could ask about “Man on the Moon,” a thoughtful but thwarted biopic about Andy Kaufman, starring Jim Carrey. But “Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond” goes one step further in suggesting that Carrey’s outstanding creative effort in making the film, not necessarily the film itself, was the true great work of art. It’s a worthwhile argument to consider, but “Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond” does a poor job of making that case.
Half of this documentary is unearthed footage shot during the production of “Man on the Moon,” where Jim Carrey was in a constant fugue, method acting state, either always as Andy or always as another side character, Tony Clifton. The other half is a talking head interview of Carrey today, wearing longer hair and a grizzled bear, reminiscing of his time on set, or rather, “Andy’s” time on set shooting the picture. Carrey mentions early on when he got the part about a trance-like state that overcame him, explaining the extreme lengths he went through in production to convey Andy. But just as his colleagues’ interest in Carrey’s hijinks turned from fascination to annoyance, so does our own while watching.
The clear analogy and most interesting thing about this movie are those extreme lengths Carrey went to, eschewing the boundary-pushing comedy of Kaufman himself. He communicates with people as Kaufman, walks around and behaves as Kaufman, and even incites fights and arguments that only Kaufman could hope of winning. If Kaufman’s mantra wasn’t so much life imitates art as life is art, Carrey is coming off here as one who believes life imitating life can eventually become art. His performance as Kaufman is extraordinary, so are the lengths he went through, but his attempt to classify it in this doc, or classify it on the request of others, kind of nullifies the whole thing Andy was going for.
That’s the problem with a comedian like Kaufman. His humor is so esoteric that even trying to discuss or analyze it or his process of making it renders the whole thing pointless. It’s like instead of laughing at the joke “What’s green and has wheels? Grass, I lied about the wheels,” you choose to dive into its syntax and anti-humor nature to figure out why it’s funny. The experience of something is more important than describing it. You can’t walk the line between “you get it or you don’t.”
One didn’t need to watch the unearthed footage to realize and appreciate what Carrey was doing, nor did one need to watch Carrey’s interview to learn anything more about his appreciation for Andy or his own troubled past which sparked his comedy. The film feels like it’s the first to come up with the solution to the quagmire that is Kaufman, as if it was the first noble endeavor to even think about talking about just what made Andy Kaufman tick. The film certainly deserves praise as the first to look at the relationship between Carrey and Kaufman in through this lens, but not enough to proclaim “Jim & Andy” as the art is so desperately thinks it is.