Jim Carrey did not receive an Oscar nomination,despite winning a Golden Globe and being nominated for SAG, for portraying Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon.
Jim Carrey can't seem to catch a break when it comes to the Academy even though he has ventured out from his comfort zone. The reason perhaps though is his most notable films outside of this zone still tend to be funny in some way or another. They might not be broad comedies but perhaps they just are not serious enough for the liking of the Academy for them to be able to accept Jim Carrey as an actor. It seems a shame in that the academy's lineup of 1999 and his recognition in the precursors should have allowed for Carrey to be among the nominees. 99 though is tricky a year for lead actor with the vast differences in the leading lineups presented so it is hard to see if Carrey was knocked out by a Sean Penn which would have been a real shame, or if he was knocked out by Richard Farnsworth which is another story.
Jim Carrey in his standup comedian days was a noted mimic which certainly comes into play here as Andy Kaufman. He not only must imitate Kaufman but he must go to a whole other level by imitating people that Andy Kaufman imitated in the way Kaufman did it. Carrey is simply a master here and if it were not for Carrey very distinct face you would think Kaufman did fake his death just to come back for the film. The funny part is Carrey compensates even with his face though keeping that Andy Kaufman look throughout the entire film. Carrey's voice is as well spot, well not just Kaufman's voice but every voice that Kaufman does is a flawless triumph by Carrey. Carrey who is usually off the wall in his body languages brings it back to reflect that rigid stiff manner of Kaufman as well. Jim Carrey just is Andy Kaufman in this film.
Carrey's work is not a comedic imitation though and he is steadfast in not acting like Kaufman but being Andy Kaufman here right down the line. Milos Foreman's direction puts us not in the mind Kaufman nor as one of his unsuspecting audience members, but rather as a semi-informed party. Yes we know of the pranks and tricks but we don't always know their full extent always, or when something even is a trick. Due to this the film and Carrey make Kaufman a man who seems to always be performing to at least some degree. There are extremely brief moments where we seem to see the true Kaufman only for a moment. These are excellent very short moments in Carrey's performance, but pivotal in creating a fuller portrait of Andy Kaufman as a person.
One example of the real Kaufman is when he has just performed as the foreigner, and his future agent George Shapiro approaches him. Carrey keeps Kaufman performing as the role as the foreigner until Kaufman notices the card. In just a short little glimpse we see just a man who sees a big break. This is a purely honest Andy. Carrey only keeps him completely honest one only for a moment though as Kaufman seems to playing a game again the very next scene. There are few other times, mostly involving Kaufman's girlfriend, and they are all superbly handled by Carrey. The reason is Carrey does show that there is a man behind the endless act, a man with some very normal dreams actually, but a man who chooses to play his games.
For most of the film it is Kaufman do his various types of performances and Carrey excels in each by showing Kaufman excel in each style of humor. There is just the straight forward funny scenes which Carrey is quite at home with. His early act as the foreigner is a perfect bit in Carrey's hands as he goes through the whole awkward part of the foreigner's terrible imitations, to his terrific imitation of Elvis to the hilarious punchline of once again being foreigner. Carrey brings us all the comedic promise by being very entertaining and enjoyable always in Kaufman's style. He never loses the magic of the act of the original act by Kaufman breathing the life into which it deserves. Carrey though continues to be just as convincing though when Kaufman starts to go even further with his brand of humor.
Carrey, just as Kaufman did, let's us decide whether we want to find his antics as the boorish Tony Clifton, also brilliantly imitated by Carrey, or just the random awkward behavior Kaufman does purposefully just to drum up a reaction especially when he becomes a wrestling heel who fights women. Carrey does not apologize in these scenes but with a keen eye of a proper observer you can see the comedic performance. Carrey is the unrepentant jerk, but as well as the man who is winking to the audience in a most peculiar way. Whether it is truly funny comes down to frankly what particularly thing Kaufman is doing as some of his anti-humor worked and some of it I'm sure he found it personally quite side splitting. Carrey replicates the unforgiving nature of Kaufman's brand of humor beautifully even when it gets quite ugly technically speaking.
Even as his antics become less appealing there is a sweet side to Kaufman behind which are displayed at his funeral and at Kaufman's big show at Carnegie hall. These two scenes Carrey makes Kaufman the man he dreamed to be which is a "song and dance man". Carrey brings such a life to these scenes even if that is quite ironic considering one of these scenes is after Kaufman's death. Carrey suggests a happiness lacking in the darker stunts played by Kaufman and honestly portrays Kaufman as a man who wishes to make other smiles. Both scenes work wonderfully because of how Carrey is able to convey a warmth while being entertaining as Andy finally leaves out his dreams. This is a great performance by Jim Carrey as he so fully inhabits every aspect of Kaufman's very complex personality. I would remark though that this could have have ranked among the all time great performances if the film dared just a little more. This is not a slight against Carrey he goes as far with the role as he possibly could in this film, I would like to have seen Carrey tackle what exactly made Kaufman the way he was though.