Man on the Moon

Directed by Milos Forman
Starring: Jim Carrey, Danny De Vito, Courtney Love, Paul Giamatti.
MPAA Rating: R for language and brief sexuality/nudity.

Review by Matt Heffernan
December 22, 1999

Today is a day of tremendous astronomical significance. The moon is full and at its perigee, which means it's the biggest and brightest you'll ever see it. It also coincides with the winter solstice, and such an event will never happen again in our lifetime. So, it should seem fitting that Man on the Moon opens today. It could be a sign of good luck for Universal, or yet another omen of a millennial apocalypse. You decide.

This film is about the career of Andy Kaufman (Jim Carrey), a comedian and actor who rose to fame in the late 1970's, and eventually died from cancer in 1984. His stand-up act was completely unlike anything that came before. It wasn't about telling jokes, but getting a reaction from the crowd. At one successful show at the Improvisation in Los Angeles, Andy met George Shapiro (Danny De Vito), a major Hollywood agent who offered his services. Shapiro got Andy guest appearances on "Saturday Night Live" and a regular role on the popular sitcom "Taxi".

But Andy wasn't content with being just another funny guy on TV. He needed to push his artform, and he cooked up some schemes with his friend, writer Bob Zmuda (Paul Giamatti). One was an abrasive lounge singer named Tony Clifton, which Andy used as an alter ego to provoke audiences. He then entered professional wrestling, and became the "Inter-gender Wrestling Champion" by taking on women. One of his contenders, Lynne Margulies (Courtney Love), became his longtime girlfriend. Andy was intent on changing how we perceive entertainment, but his mission was cut tragically short.

I know that what I wrote above was a lot of information, and some of it may seem like spoilers, but it's not anything I didn't already know before seeing this film. I imagine that anybody who remembers Andy would know most of it as well. Making a biographical film about a contemporary public figure is a difficult task, and director Milos Forman (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Amadeus) is certainly up to it. The film is very well acted and directed, but something is missing: Andy.

It's not really that the man is missing, but that his approach is not taken. A film about such an unconventional person shouldn't be so conventional. To merely see the events played out again is nothing more than a re-creation. Instead of a bold, revolutionary film, Forman gives us a docu-drama. It's an extremely good docu-drama, with Carrey really getting into the many characters of Andy, but it's nothing exceptional in this landmark year of cinema.

The Sun, Earth, and Moon are all aligned tonight, but I guess not everything can come together. This film did get nominated for two Golden Globes (Best Comedy Picture and Actor for Carrey), but I wouldn't expect much. I don't see the Academy going for it either, but I could be wrong. They always like comedies that are dramatic and dramas with laughs. I just can't decide which this film was.

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Man on the Moon (1999)

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Review © 1999 Matt Heffernan