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Movie Review

Man on the Moon is a biopic of the late Andy Kaufman, probably best known for his role as the gentle, slightly off-center mechanic Latka Gravas on the TV show Taxi. Kaufman was variously described as a guerrilla comic, a dadaist comedian and a nihilistic elf, and, assuming this movie is essentially true, he was also a prima donna and an all-round not-very-pleasant person. For anyone whose only memory of Kaufman is his Latka character, this film is an eye-opener.

Positive Elements: As a child, Andy Kaufman was eccentric, but he had the self-determination to pursue his dream and not let others' preconceptions discourage him. In his early years, there was a genuine sense of childlike wonder in his performances.

The only other positive elements come in through the back door: the movie shows that art, particularly so-called performance art, can become so nihilistic and decadent that even the usual defenders of art for art's sake become disgusted. Kaufman became such an odious prankster and hurt so many people in the process that when he told his agent and friends he had a deadly form of lung cancer, they didn't believe him, proving that the self-centered man can count on only himself when times become tough.

Spiritual Content: Kaufman was a practitioner of Transcendental Meditation, and numerous scenes show him interacting with a guru and other practitioners of this Eastern religion. The movie implies that Kaufman's breakthrough performance on Saturday Night Live in 1975 comes as a result of his guru's inspiration. Late in the story, Kaufman, who died of a rare form of lung cancer, goes to a New Age healer to be treated with crystals. At the end of the story, he travels to the Philippines for the services of a "psychic healer." In a moment of epiphany, Kaufman sees that this "healer" is really a fraud, a sleight-of-hand artist, and for the first time in his life he realizes what it feels like to be on the butt-end of a bad joke.

Sexual Content: Kaufman has a close relationship with a woman named Lynne Margulies, but it's unclear if they ever get married. They appear together in bed, but fully clothed. Kaufman appears on a stage with topless dancers while playing one of his comic creations, the obnoxious Las Vegas lounge singer Tony Clifton. The film also includes a brothel scene and several instances of sexual innuendo.

Violent Content: One of Kaufman's shticks was as a professional wrestler, usually fighting women. (That's how he met Margulies.) He "graduates" to wrestling against men, particularly professional wrestler Jerry Lawler. Numerous scenes of wrestling violence are shown, including people being dropped on their heads.

Crude or Profane Language: Nearly two-dozen uses of the f-word, s-word and other crudities. Doses of milder profanity are also injected.

Drug and Alcohol Content: Kaufman frequently performed in comedy clubs, and the movie shows patrons drinking and smoking.

Other Negative Elements: Kaufman seemed to delight in angering his audiences and he shows an apparent cruel streak in taking pranks to the point that they genuinely hurt people. His goal was not to entertain audiences but to entertain himself.

Summary: This movie is fascinating in the same way that a circus freak show is fascinating. Kaufman could have been genuinely ground-breaking and funny. His Latka character, his Elvis impersonations and his put-on stage fright all generates laughs, but there's too much obnoxious material to wade through to enjoy them.

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Jim Carrey as Andy Kaufman; Danny DeVito as George Shapiro; Courtney Love as Lynne Margulies; Paul Giamatti as Bob Zmuda. Numerous performers play themselves, including David Letterman, Jerry Lawler, Judd Hirsch, Marilu Henner and Christopher Lloyd


Milos Forman ( )


Universal Pictures



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Tom Neven

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