Using over a hundred hours of behind-the-scenes footage, Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond is a fascinating, at-times jarring, glimpse into the life of Jim Carrey during his making of the 1999 film Man on the Moon, in which he plays the eccentric, trailblazing comedian Andy Kaufman.
The context for and commentary on the footage is given by Carrey himself in the form of present-day interviews. He discusses the making of said film (directed by Milos Forman of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest fame) and how his portrayal of and consequent emotional familiarity with the person of Andy Kaufman not only impacted his psyche for the rest of his career, but reflect his career up to that point).
It becomes apparent very early why Carrey decided to leave this footage in a box in his home for nearly twenty years. This is an exploration of identity in the most intimate, personal way, however bizarre it tends to stray.
It’s an especially powerful documentary for fans of Carrey who have grown to find him odd for odd’s sake, or perhaps even ‘going off the deep end’. That isn’t to say that the documentary will convince you otherwise, but it may provide context around his journey to the edge of normalcy.
Among the oddities is the layered dynamic of Jim Carrey as Andy Kaufman as Tony Clifton, a character that Kaufman would routinely adopt with unapologetic commitment. Carrey did the same, much to the chagrin of his cast and crew. Forman himself, a two-time Academy Award winner, is several times seen pleading with the “Tony Clifton” to cooperate during the making of the film.
Cast and crew frustration is a theme in the documentary, as a matter of fact. One of the cast members, WWE’s Jerry “The King” Lawler (portraying himself in the film), feuded with Carrey over what he believed to be taking liberties with the character of Kaufman (with whom Lawler, by his own account, had a much healthier relationship). The whole thing is just so fascinating; Lawler is probably correct that his co-star is recklessly and unnecessarily pushing boundaries, but after watching even thirty minutes of the behind-the-scenes footage, it’s obvious that Jim Carrey himself is not present in the filming of this movie.
Other stand-out moments include Carrey (as Andy, of course) interacting with his character’s real-life living relatives. To a cinephile, these moments highlight the true magic of movie-making: these are folks who haven’t been able to talk to this loved one in years, and who are now face-to-face with someone who is about as convincing as one can be. It’s uncomfortable for the audience, but so was everything Kaufman ever did. That was sort of the point. Test the limits of the audience’s discomfort, and when you have the results of that test, continue to not give a shit.
Carrey does very little talking about his ‘process’ as Kaufman, and it’s easy to understand why when watching the film. It’s not really about the process, as absurd as that may sound when discussing a documentary about around-the-clock method acting. But Carrey is so disconnected, so objective in his take on this character, that he spends almost no time talking about the how or the why. It’s leaves a little to be desired, for sure, but it’s also refreshing because it gets across the exact intended point: the how or why doesn’t matter nearly as much as the what.
There is a deeply upsetting element to the conclusion of the documentary. Carrey having re-entered the real world and reflecting on that transition over clips of himself accepting awards, interacting with the press. It’s totally shattering to listen to this guy who seems forced to go back of living his life after escaping from it so effortlessly.
Jim Carrey and filmmaker Chris Smith have done a spectacular job providing insight not only into Jim Carrey, but into fame as a tangible concept. Identity is as fragile as it is necessary, and Jim Carrey and Andy Kaufman alike struggled with theirs. Who am I? What do I need? These are the questions, I imagine, plague Andy Kaufman to this day as he sips mai-thais on a beach in the South Pacific.
Just kidding, I don’t think he’s still alive. I mean, maybe he is? It would make perfect sense. Okay, I think he’s still alive.