About an hour through Man on the Moon, it struck me that I had completely forgotten that I was watching Jim Carrey playing the role of Andy Kaufman. That's a statement as to how engaging the performance by Carrey and the direction by Milos Forman were.
The movie is an embellished documentary of sorts. Kaufman, the comedian-turned-wrestler who had a running joke going all through his life until his death in 1984, is lionised in this film which depicts his envelope-pushing unorthodox "comedy" and the repercussions of his actions. The film starts with his early childhood years and follows his rise as an entertainer, showcasing his stand-up routines in L.A., his discovery by his agent George Shapiro (Danny DeVito), his becoming a sitcom star in the hit show Taxi, and his sexist pro-wrestling "career". The film also shows how his life takes a downward spiral culminating in his death from cancer.
Comparing Carrey and Kaufman, I was struck by how the former has managed to leverage the same whacked-out irreverent goofiness that Kaufman possessed to his advantage, while Kaufman's antics finally backfired on him. This isn't to say that one comedian was necessarily better than the other, but it really illustrates the nature of their humour. For all of Kaufman's outward emotions, his comedy was dark and appealed to the meaner side in people. Even though Carrey's outrageousness can be construed the same way (look at films like Dumb and Dumber or Me, Myself, and Irene), his humour comes off in a more positive manner.
Carrey's performance definitely deserves the highest kudos and it's what makes the film work. Courtney Love as Kaufman's love interest also does a good job. A gem of a moment in the movie is when Kaufman goes off to a mystic healer for his cancer condition, and discovers that the last big joke is on him.
I highly recommend checking this film out to understand how self-indulgent Kaufman was. Whether you like him or not (I particularly never understood the fascination with him), it's worth watching to see how to push the envelope in a new way.