Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
I didn’t necessarily love “I Love You Phillip Morris,” but I did have a memorable fling with it at the movie theater. Memorable enough to call it one of this year’s best.
The film is based on the criminal antics of real-life con man Steven Russell (Jim Carrey), who is currently serving an overlong prison sentence for his numerous jailbreaks. Persistent and devoted, you gotta give it to the guy for being so fixed on his sightline. What he seeks he gets. And what he wants is to be with his true love, Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor).
I don’t know much about the real Steven Russell’s personality, but Carrey’s blindered and delusional version of him is a great and not too distracting variation on the typical Jim Carrey clown persona. It plays off well with Ewan McGregor’s Phillip Morris, which he plays with a convincing softness and loveliness that makes Russell’s fixation on him believable. He pulls off the Arkansan boy next door without resorting necessarily to an offensive sissy boy parody.
The film is actually quite deceptive, much like its main protagonist. I didn’t know beforehand about Russell’s AIDS ruse, so I truly thought the real-life Russell succumbed to the disease. But thankfully that wasn’t the case, because as the AIDS bit was unfolding, I was starting to worry that the story would go the way of being maudlin, its arc too plain and predictable. The film is indeed as sly as its main character; it totally fooled me.
Much has been made of the gay element of the film. I was initially taken aback by the scene in which we first see Steven sodomize a man; but honestly, that was more to do with how dissonant it was to view Carrey, dripping with sweat, as even remotely sexy (I have yet to find a sexy clown). I don’t really get the hullabaloo surrounding the gay issue; substitute Phillip with Phillippa (that is, make this a heterosexual romance) and the movie as a whole would be treated as rather mundane. I actually thought the handling of sex in the movie, though probably not appropriate to gauge based on tastefulness, was nonetheless tame, not overly distracting.
As romantic comedies go, “Phillip Morris” is not conventional, which is part of its charm. I don’t know if Jim Carrey will get an Oscar nod, but it definitely would be justifiable with his performance here.