After a string of unprecedented hits in 1994, Jim Carey was the biggest name in Hollywood, going from an oddball comedian on In Living Color to a marquee name who could demand $20 million a picture. Then Carey decided to spread his wings, so to speak, with an attempt to branch out into dramatic roles with The Truman Show, which earned him critical praise and a Golden Globe. Carey would continue to branch out and would land a major role that he hoped would elevate him to the next level of stardom – he would star as the late great comedian Andy Kaufman in Milos Foreman’s Man on the Moon. Now the behind the scenes story of Carey’s immersion into the role of Andy Kaufman is the subject of the new Netflix documentary (with a ridiculously long title) Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond – Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton from director Chris Smith. Consisting of interviews and footage from the set, Jim and Andy presents Jim Carey as a star run amok, though through his interviews it would seem that the star is trying his best to make excuses for his inexcusable behavior.
According to Carey, he didn’t go deep into a method acting technique to play Andy Kaufman, he was possessed by Andy Kaufman. Yes, Jim Carey tries to explain his irrational and difficult behavior on the set of Man on the Moon by claiming the spirit of the dead comedian had taken over his body and that he had no control over himself. It is, to put it mildly, a massive heap of bullshit. No matter how hard Carey tries to explain away his behavior, the video evidence presented in the film does nothing to bolster his claims. Friends and colleagues of Kaufman consistently reiterate that Kaufman knew when the gag was over; there was a dividing line between the crazed comic persona and the individual present off the screen. Carey acts on set as if Kaufman was a constant prick, demanding and moody for the sake of a bit when there’s no real audience. You can see the co-stars and director Milos Foreman growing tired of Carey’s reprehensible behavior, and it almost reaches a violent apex when Carey’s ribbing of wrestler Jerry “The King” Lawler goes on for far too long.
I have no reason to doubt that Carey sincerely believes that he was possessed. The mind will do all sorts evasive techniques to avoid personal responsibility, especially when deep down we know that we’ve done something wrong. Director Chris Smith doesn’t inject his own commentary into film nor does he ever really challenge Carey on his claims. I believe this is a case of a filmmaker giving his subject enough rope to hang himself. Personally, I do wish the Smith was a bit more forceful in pushing back on Carey, but the juxtaposition between Carey’s words and the video evidence of actions present a clear picture of a man unwilling to confront the reality of his past behavior.
Jim and Andy lands at a curious time in the broader culture conversation. In recent weeks, the news has been dominated by stories of stars and men with incredible power wielding in abusive ways. At the height of his power, Jim Carey acted out on set in a manner that was abhorrent and abusive. He deserves to be called out extensively for this, and Jim and Andy documents this abuse of power. Like those in the headlines facing the music for their past actions, Jim Carey seems afraid to fully own up to his own horrible behavior. “It wasn’t me! I was possessed by the spirit of Andy Kaufman,” is basically the gist of his defense. Few on the set of Man of the Moon could stand up to Carey. He was the mega-star and the film wouldn’t be made without his involvement, which is why so many of these power players were able to wield their power in irresponsible and destructive ways for far too long. And yet Jim Carey was rewarded for his behavior with his second Golden Globe. He was able to accept that award after somehow purging the spirit of Andy Kaufman from his terrestrial vessel. Jim Carey might not be able to escape his mind and see his bullshit for what it is, but Jim and Andy presents right before our eyes to see for ourselves.