I Love You Phillip Morris

a film by Glenn Ficarra & John Requa

Granted, most of Jim Carrey's movies are, as they say, quite shitty, but once in a while the comic actor hits on something good. The Cable Guy, The Truman Show, Man on the Moon, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. So when a couple of first-time filmmakers needed a manic yet mainstream actor to get their indie film off the ground, but also wanted someone who wasn't afraid to take some chances, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (the writing team behind the cunningly provocative Bad Santa) called on Carrey to do his thing - and do it, he does. The role just happens to be real-life con man and prison escape artist Steven Russell. Did I mention he was gay? Gay, gay, gay, gay, gay. Not that Russell's homosexuality has anything to do with his criminality (a character in the movie asks this very same, quite demeaning question) but it does have a lot to do with its nearly two year battle to see the inside of a US movie theater projection room.

In fact the movie, which incidentally is called I Love You Phillip Morris (a somewhat confusing title that has nothing whatsoever to do with the eponymous tobacco company), had one Hell of a time getting a distributor after its debut at Sundance waaaay back in January of 2009. No one wanted to touch the movie with, to reference another of Mr. Carrey's movies, a thirty-nine and a half foot pole. One supposes that even the gay-friendly environment Hollywood claims to be, does not want box office champ and animated Disney icon Jim Carrey playing gay. Finally though, after what must have seemed like an eternity in the movie business, Roadside Attractions came to the rescue and released the film twenty-two months, two weeks and one day after its festival premier. And a damned good thing too, because I Love You Phillip Morris, with Carrey both manic and subdued (a feat not often associated with the ass-talking comedian) and playing gay to the highest hilt, ends up being one of those few non-shitty Jim Carrey movies we were talking about at the beginning of this review.

But enough about the woes and foibles (and apparent homophobia) of cinematic distribution - let us talk about the film itself. As already stated, the rubber-faced Jim Carrey plays Steven Russell, lifelong con man and speaker of the titular affectionate exclamation. As for the object of that exclamative affection, Phillip Morris himself is played by Ewan McGregor. Meeting in prison, our two intrepid heroes instantly - and hilariously - fall in love. Played as sort of a modern-day riff on the Rock Hudson/Doris Day comedies of the 1950's and 1960's (much in the same way Peyton Reed's Down on Love, also starring McGregor, did, though not to the extent of that film) Phillip Morris is a candy-coloured confectionary that never delves very deep, but at the same time never settles for just the shallow end of the pool. Taking on a supposedly sensitive subject (at least judging from the film's lengthy distribution scuffle) Phillip Morris is an often hilarious, sometimes rude, occasionally offensive (in a purposeful manner though) movie that is only accentuated by the inclusion of the non-shitty version of Jim Carrey. [03/13/11]