Jim & Andy – The Great Beyond (2017)
Directed by Chris Smith.
I think this is going to be a review I will never be fully satisfied with – so many thoughts came into my head after watching this, and still flood in now! It’s an absolute must for any Jim Carrey fan but I would go as far to say it’s a must for anyone that has ever been remotely intrigued by his work and just how he does it.
Put together by director Chris Smith and producer Spike Jonze, this Netflix documentary unearths footage taken by Comedian Andy Kaufman’s former girlfriend Lynne Margulies and his ex-writing partner Bob Zmuda as Man On The Moon was being made. Carrey himself instructed the footage to be shot, but it was held back for nearly 20 years. Amongst many reasons for this, Jim feels the main reason was due to the studio not wanting people to think he “was an asshole”. It shows how deep into character Carrey went as Kaufman and his own various characters, and the challenges of wrangling that performance into a film. It’s certainly a fascinating peek into both the man and the film’s tricky production.
This documentary I suppose sent me on two separate paths. Firstly I had never heard of Andy Kaufman before so I was reliant on the documentary doing him justice in its explanation. For me, the very fact Jim wanted his method acting filmed in such a way must have meant Andy was somewhat different and unique. The other path is of course the attempt to understand the great Carrey’s mind and how able he is to go so deep into a character it’s frightening.
Like most documentaries, it flicks between the then and now. I liked this. We had footage from the past accompanied by a present day interview from Jim himself. For me it was actually really nostalgic because we were shown clips from the 90s’ – the stuff my era really remembers him for. Pet Detective, Dumb and Dumber, The Mask. The list goes on. Jim also tells us about his upbringing, and how he came to be on the stage. I sit here now and say it’s unbelievable and interesting but on reflection it really isn’t surprising. He was born to be on the stage. Furthermore, there is no way he would be this successful and fruitful if he wasn’t eccentric and well, strange. It becomes very evident early on in this documentary he is able to go to places in his mind and thoughts that many simply can’t. Whether this is a blessing or a curse I’m not sure. Jim expresses his longing to make people laugh, and to take the audience’s troubles and woes away through the power of comedy – ‘free from concern’ is exactly how he put it. What a burden to bear! He feels he can only truly do that by embodying every character he plays. Enter Andy/Ace/Lloyd/The Grinch/Stanley/Bruce. Take your pick. If you think back now, have you ever doubted these character’s authenticity and credibility?
Anyway, I digress. These are all after thoughts. I wanted to write about my viewing experience from start to finish. I have to admit, my mouth was open in pure shock for the majority of the documentary. Even for a self-confessed Carrey fan, even I was astonished at the lengths Jim took his method acting the minute he was cast in the role. I would even go as far to say I was a little disturbed as at times, it was uncomfortable to watch. Jim, or should I say Andy, had every person working on that film call and refer to him as Kaufman. We are talking the Director Miloš Forman, all cast and crew including Danny Devito, even the studio bosses. We actually see ‘Andy’ meeting the Universal Studios boss for the first time. We are talking about people who have the power and control about what goes on during this shoot, and yet Jim has them ALL eating out of the palm of his hand. He has them all playing along with his games and not one person questions it. You even see the likes of Devito occasionally giving Jim the side-eye, or whispering to a colleague, genuinely concerned for Jim’s state of mind. Jim Carrey has never been shy about his disgust and low opinion of Hollywood and destructive nature of the business. Maybe this was his way of rebelling against the system, and subtly humiliating all that entertained it. Jim never actually says this, but it’s an easy assumption to make. Regardless, the crew actually say at the end Jim’s choice of method acting made them all perform better. It was an incredibly risky move, with the studio running into regular problems due to Jim refusing to break character. Forman was desperate just to speak to Jim for even a minute but was refused every time. A huge gamble that paid off I think!
In the present day interview, Jim still refers to ‘Andy’ as a real person. He is of course referring to himself playing Andy Kaufman, but even today he was a real person during that shoot. Like most actors I imagine, Jim describes it as ‘an escape’. I find that somewhat sad. It’s no secret Carrey has been through a tricky time in recent years, and to me he looks genuinely melancholy in his responses. He may be looking for escapes now but given how much he now says he misses ‘Andy’, maybe he has been looking for an escape his whole adult life. The documentary rounds up with Carrey giving final thoughts. It’s really deep, with Jim basically giving his interpretation on the meaning of life and what we truly mean to this earth. It’s really difficult to grasp and if I’m honest made no sense to me. My personal opinion is that Jim Carrey had an unwelcomed epiphany after the death of his ex-girlfriend and has been forced to address and re-evaluate his life choices ever since.
I spoke of uncomfortable viewing at times. For me, this came in the form of Jim interacting with the real Andy Kaufman’s family – still in character. I’m not sure even Jim Carrey has the right to do that to people but it was oddly well received. If you said this to Carrey now, he will reiterate what he said in his original interview – it was out of his control. He speaks of Andy Kaufman somehow coming back from the dead in spirit form and reaching out to him, telling him it was his duty to play this role and to do so by incorporating the highest level of method acting anyone has ever seen. The most bizarre piece of footage has to be Jim playing a very unwell Andy. He like most actors made all the physical changes like shaving your head and losing some weight, but he went even further. Before long, cast and crew were pushing him around in a wheelchair and taking far more breaks after takes than planned so Jim/’Andy’ could rest. They even hooked him up on a drip and again, did everything they could to support Jim in encompassing Andy’s character.
You will enjoy Jim winding up wrestler Jeff Lawler. Jeff and the real Andy Kaufman famously wrestled on live TV back in the 80s’, and this was to be re-enacted in Man On The Moon. They brought back Jeff Lawler, and Jim was holding nothing back in antagonising him. Jeff actually took the bait so much that it put Jim Carrey in hospital for real. Even Carrey says, this was the moment he questioned – had he taken it too far?
It is an absolutely fascinating insight into Carrey’s mind that is for sure. It is even more astounding to think this footage has been hidden away for such a long period of time and yet Carrey still continued to go on and make wonderfully amusing films. Who knows though, had this footage been released, would Jim’s career have taken a different turn?
I really could go on forever but I have to wrap it up. If you haven’t seen it already, it is an hour and a half absolutely well spent. 5 stars without a doubt!