Man On The Moon (1999)

(In theaters, December 1999) As someone with zero knowledge of Andy Kaufman, I approached the film as “Kaufman 101”, and I’m not sure I know more about the guy now than before. Okay, so he was a practical joker without an “Off” switch. Okay, so he manipulated people in order to get attention. Okay, so he didn’t care if people laughed or hated him. Well, I’m still waiting to understand why Kaufman deserved his own film. There is no bigger issue here than Kaufman (unlike in Milos Forman’s own The People Versus Larry Flynt, which made valid points about censorship and civil rights) and the result seems like a showcase for Jim Carrey’s mimetic skills (which are actually fairly good) than something we should care about. Kaufman’s “comedy” isn’t always conventionally funny, and even though the film tries to milk laughs out of the audience, there’s a level of discomfort that never totally goes away. The conventional structure of the film is a disappointment after the brilliant opening, and is full of holes that make this film seem like a spliced multimedia supplement to a pretty good (and far more complete) book. The other embarrassing screenwriting problems (several instances of “see now, never hear from again” situations, a useless girlfriend character, etc…) considerably diminish the worth of the film, until it’s hard to commend it as much more than a marginal video rental.

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