Jim Carrey has played a lot of out-of-this-world characters in his lifetime, but devoted audiences are likely unaware of the one role that Carrey committed so deeply to playing that he remained in character for the entirety of the film’s shoot (even when the cameras stopped rolling). Such a thing would be nearly impossible to imagine. Right?
Audiences will now be able to witness this feat in the new documentary, Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton. Jim & Andy captures the period of time after the newly minted A-list movie star wrapped three iconic movies that would define his career: Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber. Carrey followed those hits by transforming (with Herculean might) into Andy Kaufman in the 1999 biopic, Man on The Moon.
The film reveals that Carrey simply let Andy “take over” to make Man on the Moon and that he was merely “the vessel” channeling the spirit of Andy Kaufman. It’s amazing to see the accompanying footage of Carrey uncut, as he upends the production at every turn as the antic-prone Kaufman, torturing the crew to our gleeful delight. It’s more than a treat to see every shade of Kaufman that Carrey conjures up: there’s bashful and trepidatious Andy, meek and bumbling as Latka the Foreign Man (“Thank you very much”), there’s tantrum-throwing Andy who bemoans Man on the Moon director Milos Forman as well as Studio execs to their faces, there’s rabble-rouser Andy who tortures Kaufman’s former faux-foe, wrestler Jerry Lawler, incessantly (which Lawler takes in stride, until he doesn’t), and of course, his most taxing persona, the repugnant lounge-act and drunkard Tony Clifton, who stirs the most agitation of all – much to the audiences delight and Kaufman’s giddy.
Accompanying the on-set footage is a long-form interview with present-day Carrey. Wearing a leather jacket and Burning Man beard, he recounts this chapter of his past with enough distance to provide worthy insight. The juxtaposition of seeing the Carrey of now recount the antics of the Carrey of then proves an interesting mind shift. The new Carrey is seemingly content with his place in the universe and attempts to rationalize the weight of human depression and ego. This makes for a profound meditation on celebrity and ego perception, a fitting study for this internet age.
Ultimately, ‘Jim & Andy’ is a reflection of a time spent in a sandbox, safely; but now the toddler is wise enough to realize that there’s no stopping the sand from slipping through the hourglass, and finally trying to come to peace with that.
The events leading up to Carrey’s inevitable stardom left him so spiritually unfulfilled that battles with depression soon followed. So it comes as no surprise that the lure of playing Kaufman (who deconstructed and dismantled the idea of comedy itself) provided solace and the opportunity to exercise all of the things Carrey was conflicted about, fame and performance, within a performance itself. This escape play-therapy vanishing act doesn’t appear to be stroking his own ego as much as it shelters it, hiding it away entirely.
Perhaps just as amazing is the accompanying behind-the-scenes footage and that so much of it exists. We learn that Universal (the film’s studio company) commissioned the footage to be shot for press kit use but ended up shelving it after they thought that people seeing Carrey wreak havoc on set would make him look like “an asshole.” Ultimately, the footage was found in Carrey’s private Los Angeles office by filmmaker Spike Jonze (a producer on the film) who recognized that there was a movie to be made in this mad peek behind the curtain.
Much like the actor, the role the actor played, and the means the actor took to play the role, Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond is either an indulgent, self-satisfying work, or it gets exactly at the heart of how we construct our identities and who we believe we are. It’s profound to see any one person disappear into a character and questions our beliefs of where performance ends and where truth exists. Maybe this documentary is nothing more than the self-inflicted tortures laid upon by a comedian, already an oddly-wired species of people whose displays of entertainment are fueled by their insecurities. Nonetheless, Jim & Andy is part satiating behind-the-scenes movie, part psychological study of the ego, and an endlessly fascinating watch. Ultimately, Jim & Andy is a reflection of a time spent in a sandbox, safely; but now the toddler is wise enough to realize that there’s no stopping the sand from slipping through the hourglass, and finally trying to come to peace with that.
‘Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton’ is not rated. 94 minutes. Now streaming on Netflix.