This is the second ‘serious’ Jim Carey film of this season (the first being ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’), and with it he founded his reputation as a genuinely talented dramatic actor. Like ‘The Truman Show’, there is leeway within the narrative for Carey to perform at his comic best, but this time it is another man’s comedy that he is engaged in. Carey is Andy Kaufman, the brilliant, but highly strung comic who took America by storm on ‘Saturday Night Live’ with his sharp, blunt and more than slightly surreal brand of humour. Eliciting responses from ‘genius’ to ‘offensive lunatic’, Kaufman’s career was a series of ups and downs, as was his private life, as those around him who loved him struggled to understand him.
The film runs as a biography of this fire-cracker of a man whose visions of comedic-satirical excess lead to his ostracisation from mainstream productions, but which continued to burn from the maniacal glow in Carey’s eyes. Carey is not only working his very best in this film, he is also paying deep homage to a fellow comedian who helped to pave the way for other wile and ‘out there’ comics- a place from which Carey’s own brand of humour derives pat of its roots. And that love for a fellow artist is part of the amazing energy with which Carey bounds from one episode of Kaufman’s life to another- from his beginnings to his marriage to his early death of cancer. People who knew and worked with Kaufman appear in cameo roles, and the final tearful remembrance seems to be a heartfelt outpouring on the part of the actors involved.
One of the most crucial scenes for the film and for Carey comes as he realises that there really is an end coming, and he breaks down and cries his fear out; a touching, visceral scene that cannot help but move all those who see it. Another stand-out moment arrives in a scene that shows Carey as Kaufman, shockingly frail and bald from treatment on his back, a series of healing gemstones laid out on his chest, his eyes conveying desperate hope and feverish energy, despite his illness. The film swings from embarrassingly painful moments on behalf of Kaufman to heart-wrenching courage, and while the pace and presentation is quite erratic, it epitomises a man who moved through life not in at an even pace, but as a series of charges and fall-backs.
Forget what you normally think about Carey, and come to see a film that showcases not only an extraordinary life, but a stand-out performance pitched perfectly for laughs and tears.
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