Film Review with Robert Mann – I Love You Phillip Morris


I Love You Phillip Morris **½

The latest Jim Carrey comedy is a film that both has a distinct air of familiarity surrounding it and, at the same time, a sense of freshness as well. The whole conman thing is not exactly a new concept and Carrey himself has treaded similar territory before with Fun With Dick and Jane but what really sets this film apart from everything Carrey has done before is in the romantic element of the story – the character he is playing is homosexual. In comedy, when dealing with homosexuality – something which is still considered taboo by some, particularly in the US – there is always the risk of the issue being made fun of and viewed as a joke rather than being taken seriously. However, I Love You Phillip Morris does not do this, the issue of homosexuality not really being an issue at all, the film really just being a tale of love and the things people will do to keep it, not about the characters being gay. The characters simply are. And, perhaps surprisingly given improbability of the story being told in this film, everything here is based on a true story, that of US conman Steven Jay Russell, who was notorious for a series of remarkable cons and astonishing prison escapes and who is currently serving life in solitary confinement in a Texas prison. His story was documented in I Love You Phillip Morris: A True Story of Life, Love, & Prison Breaks by journalist Steve McVicker. Will you too love Phillip Morris or will you leave this film with a broken heart?

Steven Russell (Jim Carrey) is a happily married police officer who plays the organ at church and prays every night with his wife Debbie (Leslie Mann). However, after finding and being rejected by the mother who gave him up as a baby and getting into a car crash, Steven leaves his family to be his true, flamboyantly gay self. He moves to Miami, finds a boyfriend (Rodrigo Santoro) and becomes a conman to pay for his lavish lifestyle. But Steven is caught and sent to prison, were he meets and falls in love with Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor). But Steven – a forlorn lover who cannot bear to be separated from his soulmate – will go to any lengths to be with Phillip, including breaking out of jail, impersonating Phillip’s lawyer and fraudulently becoming the chief of a major corporation.

“This really happened. It really did.” – These are the words that open I Love You Phillip Morris, a film which, for once, claims to be based on a true story and genuinely is. Despite the improbably and ridiculous sounding nature of it all, everything that happens in this film really is based on true events. However, while it can indeed claim this, this by no means makes it a particularly good film. The true nature of the story and over the top comedic style to telling it taken by the filmmakers proves to be something of a mixed blessing. The over the top comedy approach often feels at odds with the true nature of the story but at the same time complements the improbable nature of it quite well. Even if the film as a whole isn’t all that great, though, there is something here that should definitely be applauded – it’s representation of homosexuality. Too many comedies featuring gay characters base their humour around gags that come at their expense but here this is not the case, even with a fair amount of humour being rather crude – a lot of dialogue and gags are based around sexual situations and there is some quite explicit sexual content that may be offputting to some, so this definitely isn’t a film for more conservative moviegoers and it obviously won’t be to everyone’s taste – and the film being very heavy on the profanities, notably in the scenes set in prison – this does at least create authenticity within the prison environment. No attempt at humour ever comes at the expense of the two central characters though and it is these characters that are the driving force. Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor are excellent as two straight actors portraying gay characters and they play the roles sensitively, sincerely and convincingly. The two share an extremely believable and quite sweet romantic chemistry and also excel when on their own with Jim Carrey doing a good job of bringing to life a complex character, who we loathe one minute then like the next – a compulsive liar who only really has good intentions at heart – and Ewan McGregor being being perfectly soft and emotional. The film revolves around the performances of the two but sadly the film is considerably less successful in other areas. Despite taking a comedic approach, the film isn’t really that funny – some may disagree with me though – with the hit rate of the gags and the dialogue being way below the average for Carrey films and the film as a whole suffering from a lack of wit. The film does improve somewhat, however, when the focus moves away from the more crude humour. The romantic element of the story often gets sidelined for the cons, many of which are quite generic and not particularly imaginative – although the prison escapes are actually quite ingenious and clever – tending to take the film into a more familiar and predictable direction, something which the story as a whole tends to avoid. So, overall, I Love You, Phillip Morris is a solid piece of cinema that shows how homosexual people should be portrayed but sadly, while it may show a progression in the depiction of gay characters, it is somewhat underwhelming on its own terms. Will you love Phillip Morris? Probably not, but you might just about like him.



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Review by Robert Mann BA (Hons)

© BRWC 2010.


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Alton loves film. He is founder and Editor In Chief of BRWC.  Some of the films he loves are Rear Window, Superman 2, The Man With The Two Brains, Clockwise, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Trading Places, Stir Crazy and Punch-Drunk Love.

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