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Man On The Moon

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How do you make a movie about Andy Kaufman, the enigmatic comedian who hid himself beneath so many layers of characters and pranks that he didn't seem to exist anymore? Attempting to explain Kaufman is a self-defeating task that's contrary to everything for which he stood. It might be better just to describe what he did, pointing out his continual puncturing of the illusion surrounding entertainment (and everything else) as an act of subversive, conceptual comedy in its highest form. Milos Forman's new Kaufman biopic Man On The Moon more or less contents itself in doing just that, re-creating Kaufman's most famous moments in a way that makes it clear just how funny and important he was. In an uncanny performance that announces him as an actor in a way the mediocre Truman Show did not, Jim Carrey perfectly mimics Kaufman's stable of characters: the foreign-man persona that would earn him a slot on Taxi, the obnoxious lounge singer Tony Clifton (who would get fired from the same), and the friendly naif that Kaufman sometimes tried to present as himself and in some ways might have been. Consisting largely of scenes of Carrey in performance, Man On The Moon sometimes plays like a greatest-hits reel, but given the awkwardness of many of the (usually brief) expository scenes, it's just as well. (Though it would have been nice had Forman, seemingly inspired by bad '70s concert films, included fewer shots of audiences reacting to the performances.) Saving most of their subtlety for the touching final act dealing with Kaufman's death from lung cancer in 1984, screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski mostly content themselves with brief scenes introducing major characters (Danny DeVito as manager George Shapiro, Paul Giamatti as collaborator Bob Zmuda, Courtney Love as the notoriously promiscuous Kaufman's late-in-life girlfriend, Lynne Margulies) and dialogue that moves the film from one Kaufman moment to the next. The result isn't much of a biography—Alexander, Karaszewski, and Forman all but canonize Kaufman, just as they did Larry Flynt in The People vs. Larry Flynt—or really much of a film. But it works wonderfully as a funny, moving tribute to Kaufman, which might be the best that could have been hoped for anyway.