Hope no one was expecting a regular, paragraphed, linear, prose-style review of this one. I’ve evaluated the situation and decided the only way I’m going to get all of my thoughts on this movie onto paper is to just ramble on as it comes to me. There’s just no other way.
I just hope it all makes sense in the end…
Jim Carrey didn’t, for an instance, make me forget I was watching Jim Carrey. An unfortunate turn of events for me as I’m a thousand times more interested in Andy Kaufman than I am in the man behind Ace Ventura. Don’t get me wrong, I think Jim Carrey is very talented and his take on Kaufman was rich and entertaining. The problem was he just didn’t capture the essence of the living breathing human being I’ve seen a gazillion times on TV. That was something of a disappointment as I had high hopes for his performance.
To Carrey’s defense I think he was the wrong person for this role. He’s far too iconic in his own right to completely lose himself in another person like that. Building a character is one thing (The Truman Show), selling yourself as another person, one with an already established media history, is another.
This is all 20/20 hindsight by the way. I defended this very casting decision when it was announced. Shows you what I know…
For fans of Kaufman (of which I am one) there is very little new presented in this movie and very little in the way of insight into what passed for Kaufman’s reality. Most of the film was devoted to recreating some of Kaufman’s greatest antics and that’s fine (it’s all funny stuff) but I would’ve liked to see a little more of what went on when the cameras weren’t rolling.
There was one notable exception in Jerry "The King" Lawler breaking kayfabe (the illusion of wrestling) by admitting that his feud with Kaufman was just an angle. That’s an act that Lawler, true professional, has kept up for more than 15 years, by the way.
Then again, you’d have to have a severed brain stem not to know that the whole scenario wasn’t real. Which, of course, makes me wonder about the reporters who thought that Carrey was really attacked by Lawler on the set. Search the Net for coverage of that and then laugh your ass of at the established media outlets that reported on it like it was The Kennedy Assassination.
Anyway, other than the above, a quick check of the excellent Andy Kaufman Home Page (Goofing on Elvis- The Short and Extraordinary Life of Andy Kaufman) and a couple of video rentals (including the amazing wrestling collection, I’m From Hollywood) would provide you with pretty much all of the same information/ performances. That’s with the added bonus of watching Andy himself, of course, which is a good thing considering the job Carrey did at recreating him.
Paul Giamatti is rapidly becoming one of my favorite supporting actors. He was a phenomenon in Private Parts (as Pig Vomit) and he’s excellent again here as Kaufman’s writer and co-conspirator Bob Zmuda.
What on Earth was Courtney Love doing in this movie? She’s not my favorite to begin with but at least her previous acting efforts found her with a real reason to be in the film. This time it just seemed like an excuse to get her face up on the screen a few times as the relationship between the two was only vaguely touched upon (she plays Kaufman’s girlfriend). One minute she’s not there and all of a sudden she’s all over the place, used effectively as a prop. Their relationship isn’t explored at all. It just is.
Maybe Forman is obsessed with her. I don’t think I see what he sees, but at least that would explain the loving way she is shot/ presented in this film. The camera practically licks her face a couple times.
Maybe I missed it but there was nary a mention of My Breakfast with Blassie. What’s up with that? Kaufman’s take on My Dinner With Andre featuring "Classy" Freddie Blassie deserves at least a couple of minutes of screen time. ‘Tis a shame I tell you.
Who would’ve played Blassie?
I’m thinking Rod Steiger with a good wig.
Speaking of missing things, the way Taxi was handled was also a little off. There’s something of a Latka montage, the scene where Tony Clifton is dragged off the set and then that’s pretty much it until his manager calls and tells him the show was canceled. I know it wasn’t exactly Kaufman’s favorite thing in the world, but it’s treated as something of an afterthought. This isn’t necessarily a bad choice. It’s just surprising.
The rest of the cast is excellent, especially Danny DeVito in the role of George Shapiro, Kaufman’s manager. Just watching him react to Kaufman’s antics was worth the price of admission.
I think that’ll have to do for the time being. After reviewing the items above I’ve realized I may have left a little bit of the wrong impression. I liked this movie. I had a good time at the theater and laughed my ass off. I just think it wasn’t the film it could have been.
This article was originally published in Boston's Weekly Dig in December 1999.