Review: “Man on the Moon”

Biographical films can be a mixed affair which never really depends on the life of the character in question, but rather how the story about his or her life is told. Director Milos Forman could have done just a pretty standard biography of Mozart with his flick “Amadeus”, but instead told the tale brilliantly from the perspective of a rival composer who at the time was the only person who truly recognised the genius of Mozart’s music and was utterly frustrated that his own musical skill paled in comparison.

Forman’s next bio-flick however was the disappointing “The People vs. Larry Flynt” which wasn’t nearly as engrossing as after a lively first half it sank into an almost non-moving pace and traded in laughs for a tear-jerking drama.

Forman has improved upon that with “Man on the Moon” which, while it does dip into the sentimental toward the end, it never wallows in almost an hour of self-pity like ‘Flynt’ did and leaves you with a more satisfied feeling. Considering Kaufman is practically an unknown outside of North America, I was quite surprised at how engaging a film this was.

All these incidents and events he was involved in were fresh and unknown to me so it was kind of enjoyable to see what was happening. Kaufman’s humour is rather unconventional and that point comes across well here with gags which some people will be rolling in the aisles over, while others sit stone-faced. Things like the unconventional opening I laughed loudly at, while things like that sickly sweet Hallmark-like Christmas theatre show made me cringe in disgust.

As I have no frame of reference to compare it with (aside from what few seconds of footage of Kaufman I have seen), Jim Carrey puts in a great performance in what is certainly his most eccentric character role(s) yet – you’ll see what I mean when you see the movie. These are certainly VERY different roles from what we normally see in him. Love plays the dotting girlfriend/wife well but has very little screentime so we never really learn what was behind the attraction between the two. The rest of the cast gives solid performances, even down to the cameos from such people as Vincent Schiavelli and David Letterman.

The main problem with this film though is the running time – its too short. At 115 minutes we get to witness some of the more important on-air incidents in Kaufman’s life, but see very little of the big off-air ones. His family life and relationships outside of that between his working colleagues are hardly explored so what little we do see of them has no real emotional impact. Thus those who have been Kaufman fans for a long time will have probably already seen 90% of the movie in real life and thus be relatively disappointed by this.

Those completely unfamiliar with Kaufman will like it more but having not seen the real incidents which took place it doesn’t have as much impact, especially those of us overseas where wrestling is nowhere near as popular and “Saturday Night Live” only airs on late night cable TV. The ones who’ll get the most out of it are American casual fans of Kaufman’s work. As bio-pics go this is one of the better ones.

Both “Amadeus” and “Private Parts”, two very different but both brilliant films, are my personal favorites. The former for its superbly crafted story & acting, the latter for its brilliant sense of humour & realism. Hard-core Kaufman and Carrey fans may be a little disappointed by “Man on the Moon”, but the rest of us will quite likely enjoy it thoroughly.