TBT – Man on the Moon (1999)

biopic, comedy, films, fucking weird, Jim Carrey, life story, TBT

As I said in my Tuesday’s Review of Jim & Andy this week, I’m sure that I’ve seen Man on the Moon at some point in my life but, for whatever reason, I couldn’t remember it. I guess it’s mostly because I really don’t know who Andy Kaufman is. Not only was he not really a ‘thing’ in the UK but I wasn’t even born when he died. I’d heard of him but certainly had no real appreciation of his popularity or supposed genius. My interest in this film will basically have come down to my interest in Jim Carrey. As with most people around my age, he was probably one of my favourite actors growing up. As I kid my sister and I loved his films. We rented the VHS of Liar, Liar on a number of occasions and I’m pretty sure we watched The Mask so much that the ribbon started wearing down. Oh my god, 90s kid problems, am I right? Kids today… etc etc etc. So, after watching the documentary this week and with the film currently being available on BBC iPlayer, I decided it was only fair that I rewatch it for today’s review. This isn’t exactly going to be a massive review but it’s taking me ages. Not because of the film but because I’m procrastinating. I’m heading to London tomorrow to stay with a friend and I need to get my stuff together. Instead, I’m watching some shitty cooking show on Netflix and not writing this. I’m definitely going to regret this when it gets to midnight and I still don’t have my clothes ready for the morning. I’m nearly 30, when exactly does the part of my adult brain kick in that gets me to pack quickly and efficiently? I miss the days when I wasn’t expected to do anything the night before we went on holiday. Conveniently, the days that this film would have been coming out.

Andy Kaufman was the kind of person that delighted in confusing and tricking his audiences. That’s why the opening to this film feels like the most appropriate tribute to him. It starts with the man himself (played by Jim Carrey) explaining that the film was so bad that he edited it down. In fact, the film was so terrible that all that could be saved was the end credits, which proceed to roll as Andy plays a record on repeat. Moments after the credits finish Andy returns to the screen to explain that was a test to ensure his audience were the kind of people that would understand his humour and appreciate what he was trying to do. It’s a simple but very effective way of getting across the real genius of Kaufman before we learn anything about him. It’s a stand out moment and a great way to kick things off.

After the opening things start to get a little less exciting. We see snippets of Andy’s life from being a child performing in his bedroom to his huge show at Carnegie Hall. He has a lot of difficulty in finding his place as people just don’t understand what he’s doing. A lot of what he does is intentionally terrible and playing up on the silliness. He doesn’t fit in with the traditional stand-up vibe so has to make sacrifices to get to the top. Most notably taking a job on the popular sitcom Taxi, a decision that he didn’t want to make but agreed to in order to get his own network special. Andy delights in confusing his audience and tricking them. The greatest example of this is his most famous alter ego; the obnoxious lounge singer Tony Clifton. Clifton was loud, difficult and insulting. The perfect antithesis to Kaufman’s own more innocent image.

Man on the Moon is your basic biographical film about a comedian. There really is only so far you can take it before it becomes a recreation rather than an exploration. Watching it now, especially after watching the documentary, I couldn’t help but feel that it didn’t really go far in getting to grips with Kaufam and, instead, just replayed the major events that lead to his success. We see Carrey perform snippets of his most famous routines but there it’s all too brief. We watch a lot of people trying to cnonvince other people that Kaufman is a genius but the evidence isn’t always there. Then there’s the fact that the film presents the entertainer as wholly positive. There is never a sense that anything he does, for whatever reason, is questionable. This isn’t a hard-hitting look at the life of a popular performer but more of a celebration of his greatness.

But maybe that has something to do with the tragic circumstances surrounding his death. Kaufman was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1983. The end of the film focuses on his struggle with the illness and, quite frankly, the scenes are emotional. Aside from the opening, it is the final few scenes that provide the greatest moments in the film. Watching as his friends and family come to terms with the news and seeing Andy struggle with the idea of his mortality are played as straight as they should be. Kaufman was only 35 when he died, which is obviously no age at all. I’m not say his short life shouldn’t be celebrated but I couldn’t help but wonder if Andy’s death pushed the whole film more towards the sentimental than the analytical.

There is a question, particularly with the image that Carrey and co. have created in the documentary, that there is a greater story behind the scenes. The documentary wanted, but failed, to start a conversation about the madness behind performance. In Man on the Moon Kaufman is hailed as a genius who subverted comedy and changed the fucking world. But how much of the innocent, man-child image the real story? What of the madness that lay behind Kaufman’s need to lie and cheat his audience? I couldn’t help but feel that there is a bigger question everyone is ignoring. Just what possessed Kaufman to act the way he did and why was everyone happy to let it happen? I’m sure he was funny but he also seemed like a huge dick.

Tuesday’s Reviews – The Founder (2017)

America, biopic, fast food, films, Laura Dern, McDonald's, Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, reviews

I’ve always liked Michael Keaton. I think I’d be bold enough to say that he’s my favourite Batman (sorry Adam West) and who can’t love him in Beetlejuice? I mean the guy’s had some misses, everybody has, but there’s nothing I really hate. Well, expect the super depressing and dark Jack Frost, which I’ve already moaned about in my list of worst ever Christmas films. I think I’d watch Keaton in nearly anything so I was already excited about the idea of The Founder. Now I can’t say I know much about the history of McDonald’s or that I was ever really planning on watching a film about it. However, as soon as I saw the trailer for this film I was desperate to see it. Obviously, knowing me as well as you do, it should be clear that I never got round to seeing it. I’ve hardly seen any of the films I was intending to see this year. In fact I’ve barely done anything that I was intending to do this year. I shouldn’t have any expectations for myself because I inevitably get distracted by real life and feel useless. I’ve always said that if I ever win the lottery (the
chances of that being incredibly remote given that I never buy a fucking ticket) that I’d still have to work otherwise I’d go crazy. Honestly though, I could easily just stay at home and watch films and read all day every day. I don’t even think I need human contact. It’s all so overrated and I have a lot of catching up to do. Starting now with this film.

I wasn’t really sure what to think about The Founder after I finished watching it and, if I’m honest, I don’t really think that it knew either. I don’t know whether it’s just because Michael Keaton makes him so much easier to like but Ray Kroc, the founder of the title, isn’t necessarily portrayed as the ruthless businessman that he maybe should be. It helps that we initially see Kroc as a wide-eyed salesman who has seen more doors in his face than he has sales. He has the drive and passion to succeed but he just hasn’t found that one idea that stands out from the crowd. Until he is placed into the path of the McDonald brothers in California. It is this chance meeting that gives Kroc the revolutionary idea that brought him to life.

Dick and Mac McDonald (Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch) are two unassuming brothers who were the pioneers of the fast-food industry. The brothers saw a gap in the market and, after perfecting their operation, opened a restaurant that provided its customers with a burger, fries and a coke in a matter of minutes. After hearing their tale and touring the kitchen, Kroc can see the potential of the brother’s scheme. He convinces them to franchise and gets to work opening restaurants all over the country. Eventually, Kroc realises that he wants more than his contract with the brothers can provide him. He starts buying the land for the new franchises as a way to get more money. This leads to a complete fracturing of his partnership with the brothers, which ends with Kroc owning the everything.

The problem with the story is that it doesn’t seem to know whether it wants to admire or admonish Kroc. It understands that everything he did to make McDonald’s the global phenomenon it is to this day was genius and changed the American society forever. But it also appreciates that the way the businessman treated the McDonald brothers was unfair. It’s not as it The Founder goes out of it’s way ti impartially lead you to your own conclusion but feels more like the writers just couldn’t be bothered to decide how they felt. Keaton’s portrayal of the title character certainly helps to make him seem less detestable: the actor has an inherent charm that kind of filters through and makes things confusing. However, he is also adept at highlighting the slimy and ruthless side to Kroc’s personality. He is a man who will get what he wants no matter the cost. Yet his sheer persistence is surely a positive attribute that should be celebrated? You see it’s confusing.

But that’s not to say that I didn’t like this film. It potters along quite nicely and gives a good idea of what went in to the early years of the McDonald’s empire. Keaton’s performance as well as Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch all help to bring something to their characters and make the film totally watchable. I defy anyone to watch this and not come out of it loving the brotherly bond between Dick and Mac. The scenes where they recount their tale are some of the best scenes in the film. There is a sense of nostalgia within this tale that adds to the charm but the overall story is something that is more than relevant today. It speaks of a long forgotten time in American history but, in an age of Donald Trump, shows that, when it comes to money, it isn’t the good guys who always win the day.

If I had one major criticism, it’s the way in which The Founder handles Kroc’s personal life. He starts the film married to Ethel (Laura Dern) who waits at home whilst her husband tours the country. She has to put up with his schemes and the risk he makes to their fiances without causing too much of a fuss. It’s a waste of time role for someone like Dern and Ethel makes little impact on the story. Which is fine because as soon as Ray meets Joan (Linda Cardellini) he drops her pretty quickly. Although, we don’t see much of his life with Joan besides a bit of seductive milkshake making. The romance plot just feels as though it was tacked on to the story without any real idea of how it would work together. It doesn’t add much to the narrative and, to make any real impact, needed to be more fleshed out. Still, it certainly doesn’t make the film any worse… just a bit messier.

The Founder wasn’t created in the hope of making more money for McDonald’s nor was it made to try and dissuade viewers from visiting the fast food chain. It is a simple biopic about a man who majorly influenced the business world. It’s not exactly hard-hitting but there is enough included to get a picture of who Ray Kroc really was. It’s almost impossible not to see connections between him and the man currently residing in the White House. Maybe this film works because the timing is so pertinent but I enjoyed this film. Seeing Kroc’s image of himself as the self-made man play out against his actual ruthless approach is wonderful but, if I’m brutally honest, a bit weak. If only the punches had landed that little bit harder.