'Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond'
‘Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – With a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton’ is a portrait of two of the more intriguing comedy minds of the late 20th Century. Their last names are Carrey and Kaufman. One was arguably the biggest movie star of the 1990s and the other was one of the most radical and influential comics of all time. The connection is that Jim played Andy in the underrated 1999 bio-pic ‘Man on the Moon’. That experience changed him forever and now we all find out why.
You see, Jim Carrey technically made two Andy Kaufman movies in 1999. One was the bio-pic, but the other was never released. Carrey stayed in character as either Andy Kaufman or Andy’s abrasive lounge singer alter ego Tony Clifton for 24 hours a day throughout production. Most of the time, he was followed around with a camera by Andy’s former love Lynn Marguilies and engaged in bizarre performance art comedy stunts with Kaufman’s former writing partner Bob Zmuda. The footage was supposed to be a DVD special feature, possibly even feature length, but Universal refused to release it. After sitting in Carrey’s personal archives for years, it’s only now seeing the light of day.
The footage is amazing. Carrey/Clifton bursts into Steven Spielberg’s office unannounced and demands to see the shark, then pranks Hugh Hefner at the Playboy Mansion. In softer scenes, Kaufman’s actual family spends hours with Carrey in character as Andy and seem deeply moved by his almost supernatural connection to the role. All of that is intercut with a long contemporary interview with Carrey conducted by director Chris Smith (‘American Movie’). ‘Jim & Andy’ weaves together the life stories of both comedians in fascinating ways, with current Carrey emerging as an introspective and nihilistic cynic. He claims that he was never the same after the production (and footage of him describing himself in the third person while in character as Andy and tearing apart his own life suggests that’s entirely possible) and also acknowledges the autobiographical significance of other movies including ‘The Truman Show’ and ‘Eternal Sunshine’ in his philosophy and recovery.
‘Jim & Andy’ is a deeply strange documentary, which is to be expected of any Andy Kaufman project. It presents two very different comedians who dedicated their careers to pushing themselves to edges that they could never recover from. It’s a remarkable case study for fans of either performer. Then something interesting happens at the end. A short scene reveals that archival footage from earlier in the documentary, which was presented as sincere, was actually a prank pulled by Carrey on Bob Zmuda. After that happens, you can’t help but question if this whole tale is itself some sort of grand goof. After all, that viral video of Carrey getting dark at NYFF happened just days before the ‘Jim & Andy’ premiere and Kaufman invented the fake celebrity meltdown.
That’s entirely possible (noted reality bender Spike Jonze produced the doc), but doesn’t alter the strength of the movie either way. Real or not, ‘Jim & Andy’ is a fascinating tribute to Kaufman and Carrey’s legacies. The fact that the film leaves viewers questioning its validity slightly is exactly how Kaufman would have wanted it. May we never know.