ⓘ Man on the Moon (film)

Man on the Moon (film)

ⓘ Man on the Moon (film)

Man on the Moon is a 1999 biographical comedy-drama film about the late American entertainer Andy Kaufman, starring Jim Carrey as Kaufman. The film was directed by Milos Forman and also features Danny DeVito, Courtney Love, and Paul Giamatti.

The story traces Kaufmans steps from childhood through the comedy clubs and television appearances that made him famous, including his memorable appearances on Saturday Night Live, Late Night with David Letterman, Fridays, and his role as Latka Gravas on the sitcom Taxi, which was popular among viewers but disruptive for Kaufmans co-stars. The film pays particular attention to the various inside jokes, scams, put-ons, and happenings for which Kaufman was famous, most significantly his long-running feud with wrestler Jerry "The King" Lawler and his portrayal of the bawdy lounge singer Tony Clifton.

Although the film was unsuccessful commercially and received mixed reviews, Carrey received critical acclaim for his performance and won a Golden Globe, his second in a row after his award for The Truman Show. His nomination was in the Musical/Comedy category.

The documentary Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond was released in 2017 and chronicles Carreys performance as Kaufman in the film, a performance he maintained during much of the films production.


1. Plot

Andy Kaufman is a struggling performer whose act fails in nightclubs because, while the audience wants comedy, he sings childrens songs and refuses to tell conventional jokes. As the audience begins to believe that Kaufman may have no real talent, his previously timid "foreign man" character puts on a rhinestone jacket and does a dead-on Elvis impersonation. The audience bursts into applause, realizing Kaufman had tricked them.

Kaufman catches the eye of talent agent George Shapiro, who signs him as a client and immediately lands him a network TV series, Taxi, much to Kaufmans dismay, since he dislikes sitcoms. Because of the money, visibility, and a promise that he can do his own television special, Kaufman accepts the role, turning his foreign man into a mechanic named Latka Gravas. Secretly he hates doing the show and expresses a desire to quit.

Invited to catch a different act at a nightclub, Shapiro witnesses a performance by a rude, loud-mouthed lounge singer, Tony Clifton, whom Kaufman wants to guest-star on Taxi. Cliftons bad attitude is matched by his horrible appearance and demeanor. But backstage, when he meets Shapiro in person, Clifton takes off his sunglasses and reveals that he is actually Kaufman. Clifton is a "villain character" created by Kaufman and his creative partner, Bob Zmuda. Once again, the gag is on the audience.

Kaufmans profile increases with appearances on Saturday Night Live, but he has problems with his newfound fame. When performing live, audiences dislike his strange anti-humor and demand that he perform as Latka. At one show, he deliberately antagonizes attendees by reading The Great Gatsby aloud from start to finish. Kaufman shows up on the Taxi set as Clifton and proceeds to cause chaos until he is removed from the set. He relates to Shapiro that he never knows exactly how to entertain an audience "short of faking my own death or setting the theater on fire."

Kaufman decides to become a professional wrestler - but to emphasize the "villain" angle, he will wrestle only women hired actresses and then berate them after winning, declaring himself "Inter-Gender Wrestling Champion." He becomes smitten with one woman he wrestles, Lynne Margulies, and they begin a romantic relationship. Problems arise when, during an appearance on ABCs live TV comedy show Fridays, Kaufman refuses to speak his lines.

Kaufman feuds publicly with Jerry Lawler, a male professional wrestler, who challenges him to a "real wrestling match", which Kaufman accepts. Lawler easily overpowers and appears to seriously injure Kaufman. Lawler and an injured Kaufman wearing a neck brace appear on NBCs Late Night with David Letterman, ostensibly to call a truce, but Lawler insults Kaufman, who spews a vicious tirade of epithets and throws coffee at the wrestler. It is later revealed that Kaufman and Lawler were in fact good friends and staged the entire feud, but Kaufman pays a price when he is banned from SNL by a vote of audience members, weary of his wrestling antics. Shapiro advises Kaufman and Lawler not to work together again, and later calls Kaufman to inform him that Taxi has been canceled.

After a show at a comedy club, Kaufman calls together Lynne, Zmuda, and Shapiro to disclose that he has been diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer and may die soon. They arent sure whether to believe this, thinking it could be yet another stunt, with Zmuda actually believing a fake death would be a fantastic prank. With little time to live, Kaufman gets a booking at Carnegie Hall, his dream venue. The performance is a memorable success, culminating with Kaufman inviting the entire audience out for milk and cookies. His health deteriorates. Desperate, Kaufman heads to the Philippines to seek a medical miracle through psychic surgery only to find it a hoax, laughing at the irony. He dies soon after. At Kaufmans funeral, friends and loved ones sing along to "This Friendly World" with a video of Kaufman. One year later, in 1985, Clifton appears at Kaufmans tribute at The Comedy Stores main stage, performing "I Will Survive". Zmuda watches in the audience.


2. Cast

Several members of the cast of Taxi, including Marilu Henner, Judd Hirsch, Christopher Lloyd, Carol Kane, and Jeff Conaway make cameos, playing themselves. Danny DeVito, who was also in the cast of Taxi, co-starred in the film and did not appear as himself.

Many of Kaufmans other real-life friends and co-stars also appear in the film although not all as themselves, including Zmuda, Shapiro, Margulies, David Letterman, Paul Shaffer, professional wrestler Jerry Lawler, wrestling announcers Jim Ross and Lance Russell, The Improv founder Budd Friedman, Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels, and actors Vincent Schiavelli and Chad Whitson. Michael Richards is played by Norm Macdonald in a recreation of the Fridays show skit. According to Jerry Lawlers autobiography Its Good to be the King. sometimes, WCW wrestler Glenn Gilbertti, better known to wrestling fans as Disco Inferno, was considered for the role of Lawler.


3. Production

Man on the Moon was shot in Los Angeles in the winter of 1998. The films production is notable for Carreys rigid method acting, staying in-character as Kaufman both on and off the set for the duration of production. Carreys adherence to the role reached the extent where he would develop unscripted tics and habits that were previously characteristic of Kaufman himself. Among other examples, Courtney Love noted how Carrey would stuff his clothing with Limburger cheese on the set when playing Kaufmans Tony Clifton character in the film, something Kaufman had done in his own performances of the character.

A documentary, Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond, was released in November 2017. Using behind-the-scenes footage, the documentary covers the production of Man on the Moon with a particular focus on Carreys method-acting as Kaufman.


4. Soundtrack

The soundtrack for the film was written by rock band R.E.M., whose 1992 song "Man on the Moon" originally written in honor of Kaufman gave the film its title. The soundtrack also included the Grammy-nominated song "The Great Beyond", which remains the bands highest-charting single in the United Kingdom.


5. Historical accuracy

The film makes a few changes to Kaufmans life story. As Kaufman played by Carrey explains in the prologue, "All the most important things in my life are changed around and mixed up for dramatic purposes."

The famous Carnegie Hall "milk and cookies" performance, portrayed in the film as one of his last performances after being diagnosed with cancer, had in fact occurred in 1979, five years before Kaufmans death and well before his diagnosis. Also, the film is deliberately ambiguous over whether Kaufman actually died or if his death was a hoax as some fans believe.

The film implies that Carol Kane was a member of the Taxi cast during the shows first season, which in real life was 1978–79. In actuality, Kane did not make her first appearance on the series until the episode "Guess Whos Coming for Brefnish", which first aired on ABC in January 1980 during the shows second season. The film implies that Taxi was canceled only once. However, the show went on for one more season on NBC.

Other inaccuracies include scenes based around SNL, specifically the first episodes host. Also, the scene where Lorne Michaels asks the home viewing audience to vote Kaufman off the show happened in 1982, two years after Michaels left the show as executive producer and Dick Ebersol took over.

After its release, the film attracted some criticism over various events in Kaufmans life that were left out. Max Allan Collins maintained that the filmmakers did not understand Kaufman, and that the film "does not give Kaufman the credit for his genius, that he had a complete intellectual grasp of what he was up to and a showmans instincts for how to play an audience." Significantly, these critics included Kaufmans own father Stanley, who was displeased that little of Andys early life before show business and early career were portrayed.

Sam Simon, executive producer on Taxi, stated in a 2013 interview with Marc Maron for the WTF with Marc Maron podcast that the portrayal of Andy on the show was "a complete fiction," that Kaufman was "completely professional" and that he "told you Tony Clifton was him." Simon also stated that sources for these stories were mostly from Bob Zmuda and a "little bit of press and hype," but conceded that Kaufman would have "loved" Zmudas version of events.


6. Reception

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 63% based on 119 reviews, with an average rating of 6.2/10. The sites critical consensus reads, "Jim Carrey is eerily dead-on in his portrayal of Andy Kaufman, which helps to elevate Man on the Moon above the scripts formulaic biopic cliches." Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned a score of 58 out of 100, based on 34 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B–" on an A+ to F scale.

Roger Ebert wrote for the Chicago Sun Times:

Man on the Moon ended a string of Jim Carrey films that had very successful opening weekends, and grossed just $47 million against a budget of $82 million. Although the film received mixed reviews from critics, they were near unanimous in their praise for Jim Carreys portrayal of Andy Kaufman. Carrey won a Golden Globe for his performance, and the film was nominated for Best Musical or Comedy as well.

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