Carrey calls for a Taxi
Based upon the life of avant-garde comedian Andy Kaufman, "Man on the Moon" follows Kaufman's life from his early days as a struggling comedian testing his act on the small audiences in the local clubs and bars. After meeting celebrity agent George Shapiro, stardom beckoned as he became phenomenally popular as Latka in the American sit-com "Taxi". But despite his success, he despised the commercialism of the comedy and through a series of strange stunts, which included wrestling with women and his alter ego, vile lounge singer Tony Clifton, his popularity amongst the audiences and the Television producers waned.
As a child I have fond memories of watching the American sit-com "Taxi" and crying with laughter at the hilarious antics of Latka a humble mechanic. So when a biopic of Andy Kaufman, the man behind Latka, came out I was quite keen to watch it and not only hopefully reminisce at some of the humour which I loved but also to find out more about this clever comedian. Well it was definitely not what I was expecting, maybe because I only really knew of Kaufman from his Taxi days, where as "Man on the Moon" focuses more on the before and after the "Taxi" period, giving a deeper look at the man rather than just his comedy. Whilst it was not what I was expecting, it was still and absolutely brilliant movie which although suffering from a bit of poetic licence not only entertains but also educates.
After a rather wacky opening and a quick prologue, as we are introduced to Kaufman as a young child who pretended that his bedroom was his own TV studio much to his parent's dismay, "Man on the Moon" nicely moves into the main thrux. In fact "Man on the Moon" could easily be split into three distinctive sections, with the first of these looking at Kaufman as the struggling entertainer working the clubs and bars. Whilst the movie seems to move over this part quite quickly, it does set up the background as to how Kaufman succeeded in becoming the popular entertainer he was, with his rather unusual brand of humour and also introduces his relationship with his agent George Shapiro and writing partner Bob Zmuda.
The second part of "Man on the Moon" is where things really starts to lift off as we get a glimpse of "Taxi" which has been recreated amazingly well but more significantly we get a deeper look at Kaufman and what makes him tick, and most surprisingly his hatred of performing in the sit-com as well as his alter ego, the vile lounge room singer Tony Clifton.
The final part of "Man on the Moon" takes us through what can only be described as his self-destruction, as he performed more and more outrageous stunts which caused his legions of fans to turn against him, culminating with him being dropped from the American show "Saturday Night Live". What is quite amazing is in retrospect some of the stunts he pulled were quite tame compared to today's comedians, they really did have an adverse affect on his career. Whilst the film makers have used a bit of poetic licence in the time line of events, most notably what appears to be his final appearance at Carnegie hall having actually happened a while before it is shown to, "Man on the Moon" has a remarkable real feel to it. Even the rather weird intro as well as a rather strange ending, feel like they fit perfectly into a biopic about this unconventional entertainer. What is also quite surprising is that for anyone who is unfamiliar with Andy Kaufman will undoubtedly finish this film feeling educated they will also be left with loads of questions floating around in their heads, which adds to the mystery surrounding this misunderstood comic genius.
Whilst the storyline is top notch and keeps you interested through out, it is the performance of Jim Carrey which is the real highlight of "Man on the Moon". Whilst in the past Carrey has become renowned for over the top characters which allow him to goof off in front on the cameras to his hearts content, his performance as Kaufman is greatly toned down and in doing so is probably his finest to date. Right from the outset, with the novel intro scene Carrey becomes Kaufman, not just to the extent that you feel you are watching Carrey imitating the comedian but you have a rather strange feeling that you are watching Kaufman act in his own biopic, that is how good Carrey's performance is.
Also making "Man on the Moon" so good is Danny DeVito as his agent George Shapiro, like Carrey, you stop thinking that you are watching the diminutive DeVito but you are watching this man called Shapiro who somehow managed to understand what Kaufman was trying to do with his comedy. I also had to smile as DeVito was one of the actors who originally appeared in "Taxi" so to cast him in such an important role in this movie was a nice touch.
Whilst Carrey is rightly the star and DeVito is brilliant as a supporting actor, "Man on the Moon" also has great performances from Paul Giamatti as Kaufman's writing partner, Bob Zmuda, and also Courtney Love as Lynn Margulies, Kaufman's wife. This quartet of actors, through what comes across as a real team effort, not only manage to bring each of their characters to life, but also make this film one brilliant biopic.
Praise should also go to director Milos Forman who has managed to combine entertainment with information in a way which offers something for everyone, no matter if you have never heard of Andy Kaufman before or are a long time fan. Helped by the outstanding performances from all the cast, he effectively transports you back to the late 70s/ early 80s where they action takes place making it feel like you are actually there whilst Kaufman's life unfolds. Also what is quite noticeable is the use of the R.E.M. song "Man on the Moon" which not only features in the title of the film but predominantly through out, so much so that it is the only song from the entire film which I can remember.
What this all boils down to is that as biopics go "Man on the Moon" has to be one of the best I have seen in a few years, with not only a brilliant story but also exceptional performances to go with it. I doubt that anyone other than Jim Carrey could have played Andy Kaufman so convincingly, and a lot of praise should go to him for his self control in not over egging his performance. The same can be said of all his co-stars as not only do they individually put in sterling performances but they seem to effortless gel together in front of the camera.