I Love You Phillip Morris

A Prison Romance.  Really.

Main Cast: Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor
Directors: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa

Jim Carrey has been trying for years to branch out from his slapstick roots.  Sometimes the results are a disaster (I’m looking at you The Number 23) and sometimes brilliant (now my eye turns to The Truman Show).  It takes a really special character and script to give Carrey a balance between his natural, goofy, exuberant physicality and a more serious, vulnerable human character.  I Love You Phillip Morris is Carrey’s most recent attempt to achieve that balance and, in many ways, he succeeds.  Not all ways, but many.

Jim Carrey stars in I Love You Philip Morris

Steven Russell (Carrey) is a good man.   After learning of his adoption as a child he makes it his life’s work to be a fine, upstanding, churchgoing police officer with a wife and daughter.   But, as we come to know Steven, we understand that as with most things in his life he has more than a single motive for his well-mannered actions.  We also come to understand that his choices generally do not make for positive, lasting life situations.

Even after he finally comes out of the closet (not a spoiler – have you seen a trailer or heard the name of the movie?) he can’t change everything and the conman in him is at the ready.  After meeting Phillip (Morris, that would be, played by Ewan McGregor) in prison Steven does find himself a changed man.  Not in basic nature, of course, but in his focus.  He does, indeed, love Phillip Morris, and will do many, many things so they can be together.  How far will he go?  How far would you go for the person you love?  How long can Jim Carrey be on screen before he falls down and makes us laugh?

I Love You Phillip Morris is a lot of things.  It’s a very sweet love story.  It’s the story of a conman extraordinaire who has a way of blowing his cons at the last minute.  It’s a comedy and a tragedy.  It’s also true.  How true, you ask?  I have no idea, but it’s based on the life of an actual man.  Let’s just say true enough to make it all the more sweet, bittersweet and funny.

Steven Russell is an ideal character for the pratfalls that made Carrey famous, but is also a little bit haunted and will quite literally do anything for the mild mannered man who is the love of his life.  Steven hasn’t had the easiest life and he brings baggage to his comedy, an edge to his character that we don’t always like, but can’t help but love.  His funny bits really are funny without being excessive and annoying.  The scheming persona is a beautiful fit for Carrey and he manages the serious and tender moments with a subtlety we’re rarely allowed to see from a comic.

Ewan McGregor is fabulous as Phillip Morris.  He’s a doll faced sweetheart with a heart of gold and a southern drawl that would melt butter.  His trusting naiveté is a beautiful contrast to the scheming Steven and the two actors play off each other’s strengths and help smooth out their weaknesses.  Carrey and McGregor really do make a believable couple.  One a born protector, the other yearning for someone to whom he can truly give his whole heart.

Some people are going to hate this film simply for existing.  Fine.  But if you want some real drawbacks, look for the pacing to sag in the middle of the movie and some of Carrey’s montages to get a touch old after the second time through.   Leslie Mann shows up as Steven’s wife but has little to do (despite what you see in the trailer) and Rodrigo Santoro as Steven’s first boyfriend.  There are no real substantial supporting characters.  Steven’s cons are glossed over in favor of concentration on the relationship and that makes his shenanigans confusing, especially toward the end of the movie.  I could argue that the cons themselves don’t really matter, but the rush proves distracting at a few crucial moments.   Fairly minor complaints.

Be aware going into I Love You Phillip Morris that the movie is rated R.  There are some rather graphic sexual situations (all pretty funny in context and with no real nudity), a lot of bad language and, of course, a lot of homosexuality.  Physical homosexuality.  If it makes you uncomfortable to see two men kiss, see something else.  This isn’t Brokeback Mountain, where being gay means tortured souls and stolen moments.  This is playful, sometimes tender sexual expression between men, reveling in gay stereotypes and laughing along with Steven as he explores his long-repressed sexuality.

Overall, I Love You Phillip Morris is not the next Truman Show, but it has its own unique strengths.  There’s a love story, there’s some con jobs, there’s a little sex, some pratfalls and more than a few genuine laughs.  That it’s based on the real life of one man makes it all the more funny and tragic.  Carrey and McGregor took a big chance with this film, as did directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa.  I’m glad they all stuck with it, the result is a solid adult dramedy.

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