Earlier today I finally saw Jim Carrey and Chris Smith‘s Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond. It’s a 95-minute doc about Carrey’s super-intense experience in portraying put-on comic Andy Kaufman for Milos Forman‘s Man on the Moon (’99). As a “making of” saga it’s a way-above-average thing, and as a slice of intimate celebrity portraiture it’s anything but run-of-the-mill.

The film achieves specialness by way of (a) a trove of heretofore-unseen backstage footage, shot by a crew Carrey hired to stay with him throughout filming, and (b) Carrey’s talking-head narration, which I found perceptive and (to my surprise) emotionally affecting.

I was hoping for a diverting backstage thing, but Jim & Andy is much more than that. 

It’s not just an essay about the craft of movie acting and the ritual of surrendering to a role, which Carrey did so completely while playing Kaufman in ’98 that he literally stopped being himself on a 24/7 basis (refusing to answer to Jim, speaking of himself in the third person). It’s also a study of the personas that we all project socially vs. the person we really are deep down. Which makes it a food-for-thought film about what social identity really boils down to, and the games that we all submit to in order to fulfill expectations and keep up appearances.

I was never not fascinated, and I loved the flavor of it.  I was especially struck by an anecdote about a certain phone conversation Carrey had with  Man on the Moon director Milos Forman, during which Carrey floated an idea about “firing” Kaufman and the super-contemptible Tony Clifton (I was never able to tolerate this alter-ego asshole) and doing imitations instead. 

I could summarize a few more highlights but I’m out of time. You’ll be better off just seeing the film and discovering them for yourself.

Mainly I felt riveted by Carrey’s commentary and Zen vibe. Sure, you can call Jim & Andy a vanity project as there are no talking heads besides the 55 year-old actor, and yet there’s something to be said for this strategy. Carrey’s relaxed, seemingly-nothing-to-hide manner of speaking (and who knows what’s real and what isn’t in terms of who he really is and what he’s chosen to pass along?) reaches out and somehow connects. His candid recollections, perceptive assessments, shoulder-shrugging charisma, seeming honesty and longish hair and gray beard, etc. — it all adds up to a package and a presentation that I trusted.

For all the media-driven perceptions about Carrey having gradually evolved over the last 10 or 15 years into something of a wiggy eccentric (Guardian critic Jordan Hoffman wrote in his review that Carrey “comes off as an asshole”), Carrey struck me as genuine and whole. There doesn’t seem (emphasis on the “s” word) to be any lying in the guy.  And the story behind his Kaufman performance is a trip.

And on that note, I have to leave for a 6:30 pm screening of The Wife at Roy Thomson Hall.