Film and drama

Screen Themes: The Disaster Artist vs Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond

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Things are getting a little weird at IA HQ, as entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out a couple of movies about movies and ponders the troubled genius of Jim Carrey.

The Disaster Artist 

Directed by James Franco (2017)

Directed by and starring budding auteur James Franco, The Disaster Artist is one of those movies that requires some prior viewing. If you haven’t seen the "worst movie ever made", The Room then much of The Disaster Artist is going to be fairly baffling, although enough of that movie has seeped into pop culture that you’ll definitely get some of the references, like the immortal line “You’re tearing me apart, Lisa!”

A quick summary for those unfamiliar; the best example ever of ambition over talent, The Room was written, directed, financed by and starred Tommy Wiseau, a man with a mysterious history and a penchant for Red Bull. Poorly shot, woefully acted and unintentionally hilarious, The Room only ran for two weeks in its initial season but has gone on to be an international phenomenon with monthly screenings in cinemas around the world.

From a structural perspective, The Disaster Artist takes some cues from the documentary format, kicking off the movie with a bunch of famous talking heads (Kevin Smith, JJ Abrams) talking about why they love The Room so much. Similarly, the movie closes with side-by-side comparisons of Franco recreating scenes featuring Tommy’s off-the-wall performances, proving that, if nothing else, James Franco is an incredibly talented mimic. 

In addition to Franco in the lead role and his brother Dave Franco (in terrible fake beard) as narrator Greg Sestero, The Disaster Artist features performances from Seth Rogen (as an increasingly incredulous director of photography, Sandy), Zac Efron, Jacki Weaver and Alison Brie, along with Hunger Games star Josh Hutcherson, playing creepy man-child Denny. All of the performances are great, but can’t help but pale in comparison with Franco’s tour-de-force performance as Tommy.

In turn hilarious and somewhat sad, The Disaster Artist isn’t necessarily a movie I’d choose to watch again, but it’s a great companion piece to The Room and a must-see for anyone who has ever thrown a plastic spoon at a cinema screen. True fans will know what I’m talking about…

Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond

Directed by Chris Smith (2017) 

I think I can say without fear of contradiction that Jim Carrey is not a normal human being. This puts him in the same boat as Andy Kaufman, the deeply weird star of Taxi, whose comedy relied on keeping his audience confused. When Carrey signed on to the Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon, many critics lauded the choice as inspired, but nobody could predict what would come next.

In the intro to Jim & Andy, a heavily bearded Carrey explains that the behind-the-scenes footage shot for Man on the Moon has been buried for 20 years because the studio didn’t want viewers to think Jim was an asshole. The studio was absolutely right with this instinct, as it becomes increasingly obvious as the documentary plays out that Jim Carrey is not just an asshole, he is an arrogant, deluded and possibly clinically insane asshole.

Wearing the character of Andy Kaufman like a second skin, Carrey disappears into the role, staying in character almost constantly during filming. While this is somewhat charming when he’s playing the innocent Kaufman, it becomes intensely annoying when playing Kaufman’s boozy alter-ego Tony Clifton. From an acting perspective, it would be fair to call Carrey a genius, albeit a deeply troubled genius with a penchant for antagonism.

This compelling behind the scenes footage from Man on the Moon is padded out with clips comparing Carrey and Kaufman’s rise to fame and the struggles that went along with it. While this might be interesting for people unfamiliar with either man’s work, there’s a lot of footage that most people will have seen before and an in-depth analysis of Carrey’s method approach seems like filler.

As a piece of entertainment, Jim & Andy starts out fascinating, but begins to lose momentum at around the half way mark. Early scenes of former Kaufman co-stars, like Danny DeVito and Judd Hirsh interacting with Carrey-as-Kaufman are surreal, as the experienced actors at first marvel at Carrey’s performance and then quickly begin to despair at his antics. Pro-wrestler and close friend of Kaufman, Jerry "The King" Lawler looks particularly confused and at one point puts Carrey in a chokehold, and reminds him “I can do this at any time” as frantic production assistants try to pull the two apart.

While I don’t particularly like Jim Carrey as a comedic actor or a human being, I quite enjoy his dramatic performances in movies like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Truman Show. I found Man on the Moon disappointing, more of an exercise in imitation than a true examination of a complex character. Jim & Andy is something in between, a great object lesson on the price of fame wrapped up in an uneven and sporadically entertaining documentary format.

The Verdict

Both The Disaster Artist and Jim & Andy portray individuals that see themselves as creative geniuses, although the truth may be somewhat different. While Jim Carrey has won an Oscar and Tommy Wiseau never will, both men seem to be equally deluded about what makes a great performance or an acceptable way to act around other human beings.

In terms of entertainment value, The Disaster Artist is head and shoulders above Jim & Andy, for the simple fact that the movie doesn’t periodically fill you with rage at the behaviour of the star. As played by Franco, Tommy’s demands and general weirdness come off as somewhat endearing, while if you don’t want to grab Jim Carrey by his hobo beard by the end of Jim & Andy then you’re a far more patient viewer than I, my friend…

The Disaster Artist — 8/10

Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond — 6/10

Books by John Turnbull are now available on Amazon and Kindle. There’s supernatural thriller, Damnation’s Flame; action/romance, Reaper; black comedy, City Boy; and travel guidebook, Bar Trek: EuropeDamnation's Flame by John Turnbull is also available in the IA store HERE. (Free postage!)

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