A&E » Film

Method Jim and the great beyond



The old saying is that there's a method to the madness. But when it comes to acting, there is definitely a madness to the method.

"Method" acting is a technique where the performer attempts to totally inhabit their character, often living (or re-living) parts of their lives and refusing to break character even after the cameras are off. Robert De Niro famously got a taxi license and drove cab around New York City before and during shooting on Taxi Driver. Jack Nicholson and the gang actually lived on-set in a mental health facility, and attended sessions with real patients, while filming One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and more recently, Jared Leto reportedly refused to break character as The Joker on the recent Suicide Squad (but still ranks behind Heath Ledger, Nicholson and OG Cesar Romero from the old TV show on the Joker spectrometer).

Method acting is no joke, it often wins awards (see also: Daniel Day Lewis), and even Nic Cage has done it, so you know it's legit. For sure, it can also be a huge pain in the ass for everyone else on the movie but if you don't have to deal with it, the backstage method scenario is incredibly fascinating to watch — as evidenced by a new Netflix doc Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond.

Jim and Andy is a behind-the-scenes doc about Jim Carrey starring as late comedic tour-de-force Andy Kaufman for the 1999 biopic Man on the Moon. For those who didn't know Kaufman or his work (he died in 1984), this is a good intro to one of comedy's brightest and most batshit-crazy pot stirrers. Known for a full-commitment style of super-outside-the-box performing, Kaufman once paid an old woman to fake a heart attack at one of his stand-up sets in Carnegie Hall.

Most of the film is behind-the-scenes footage shot on and around the set of Man on the Moon by documentarian Lynne Margulies, also a former girlfriend of Andy Kaufman. Through present day interview footage, Carrey explains how Kaufman basically took over and inhabited him like a demon for the entire length of the Man on the Moon shoot. But is he serious? Or setting up a very extended, super-meta, Kaufman-esque gag?

Watching Carrey channelling Kaufman is a trip, but it's a good one. He crashes convertibles, frustrates his director (Cuckoo's Nest's Miloš Forman), reignites a classic Kaufman feud with pro wrestler Jerry Lawler (whose original antagonism with Kaufman was part of an act. This time he's really pissed off). Carrey also drinks like a sailor while in make-up as Kaufman's crasser, raunchier alter ego Tony Clifton (who makes sporadic appearances to demonstrate the true meaning of "Zero F*cks Given").

It can all be written off as a top-notch bit of method acting until Kaufman's own family begin speaking to Carrey as if he was their relative. Certainly, he was coming off Ace Ventura, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber at the time but was Carrey really that good? That he could truly become one of the most complex entertainers of a generation? Towards the end of the film, where Kaufman battles a rare form of lung cancer, Carrey is brought to set in a wheelchair and you can see the true, genuine sadness of his co-stars who can't not buy in. Whether Kaufman was there in spirit or Carrey was able to reach into the titular "Great Beyond," there is all kinds of artistry on display in what ends up being a hell of a solid flick. Jim and Andy is another massive hit for the Netflix documentary department.

In theatres, the only fresh blood this week is Coco, a colourful Pixar-Disney romp into the mythology of Mexico's Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. Astute family-film lovers will recall 2014's Guillermo Del Toro-produced The Book of Life that visits the same universe, but there is more than enough space in the Mexican afterlife for Coco. This one looks sharp and heartwarming, the take-home message for kids appears to be: "We will all die and be forgotten" but maybe no one will catch it. If they do, just show your little ones Jim and Andy and talk about spirits coming back from "The Great Beyond."

Then show them The Exorcist.


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