I Love You Phillip Morris (2010) - Can't Stop the Movies
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I Love You Phillip Morris (2010)

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ANDREW LIKEAnyone who complains about lack of originality in movie plots these days would do well to look at I Love You Phillip Morris.  It's the nearly neglected darker cousin treading some of the same ground as Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can.  But despite the laughs, which came quite plentifully, it has a tragic side befitting it's unfortunate hero.  Of course he has his tragic flaws, an incessant streak of lying, but the other issue is a society that still punishes sexuality over many other things.

It's been a long and bumpy journey for I Love You Phillip Morris.  It was originally produced and slated to be released in 2009.  Sadly, many distributors felt that a movie featuring extensive gay sex scenes involving Jim Carey being told to "Cum in my ass" wasn't exactly a bankable product to America.  But there's a lot more to Phillip Morris than the admittedly plentiful sex scenes, and a lot of it has to do with the writing and first time directing team of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa.

They got their start working on Nickelodeon animated programs before moving on to the likes of Bad Santa and the remake of The Bad News Bears. Both of those films hummed with a dark vitality and in the case of Santa a nigh-irredeemable lead character.  What's surprising about Phillip Morris isn't that it has a dark side, but that it's actually being used to hide a big beautiful heart that not once seems out of place with all the raunch.

Phillip Morris centers around the genetically predisposed con-man Steven Jay Russell (Jim Carrey).  His identity has always been in something of a flux since he was told that he was adopted at a very early age.  So he went about his business doing what he thought was expected of him with his wife and child, all the while carrying on secret homosexual affairs on the side.  Well, after a car accident knocks Steven out he has an epiphany and decides to no longer hid his homosexual impulses.  He adopts the first (or is it second?) of many personas, embezzling money out of companies, setting up accidents that he can collect for later on,and generally waving his middle finger at the law.

Yes, it's still a comedy, which is broadly and magnificently showcased during Steven's early run actively trying to be a gay stereotype..

Steven had a knack for fooling people and talked his way into several different positions without having a lick of college experience.  But eventually this catches up to him and he lands in prison, where he meets with the eternally sweet and fairly dumb Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor).  Steven thinks that he's finally found someone he can be himself with, and to an extent that he can, but once they're out of prison Steven can't help but jump back into the con game so that he can support the life he wants to give to Phil.  It's here that the movie grows less dark and funny (Steven tries to commit suicide twice in the first forty minutes), and instead focuses on why Steven will never be happy, even with someone as perfect for him as Phillip by his side.

The movie develops a strange poignancy in it's later acts.  A lot of the problems that Steven faces are because, let's be honest here, he's a brilliant and compulsive liar.  But really, the only person he ever hurt (that the movie presents anyway) was his wife and most of his crimes were punished because he embarrassed Texas so badly again and again.

The underlying subtext of a lot of these moments of punishment is that we're far from living in a post-Brokeback Mountain kind of world.  The movie doesn't make to big a deal of it, but the general gist is that Steven's homosexuality gets him into even worse trouble at times than his lying and embezzling.  At least in the case of that he was usually making someone some money, by being gay he's offending someone's ethical code and I suppose a line has to be drawn somewhere which the film, sadly, marks as his homosexuality.

There are quite a few killer lines in the script, one of my favorites is "I'm trying to be understanding here hon, I really am...but golf? Why don't you just eat pussy?"

Amongst the movies many surprises were just how well matched Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor are.  They have a sweet chemistry built on a clear eyed idealistic view of the other person.  This is hampered somewhat by Steven's illegal activities, but they keep right on loving one another until the bitter end.

Now despite all of the heart this is still a very funny movie.  A lot of that credit has to go with Jim Carrey's somewhat unusual performance as Steven Russell.  The voice-over early on sets up just how smart and sly he is, providing a funny commentary on complicated plans off-set somewhat by his simple Southern accent and way of casually looking down on everyone around him.  Finally, he's given a lot of funny things to do by Ficarra and Requa, the sex scenes being the best of those moments, and the blissful look of escape as Carrey worms his way out of another situation.

I can see how Phillip Morris was a risky venture, especially given it's blend of multiple tones and up-front sexuality.  But with a solid creative team anything is possible, and this is one film that deserves a much wider audience on DVD.  For myself, I'll just have to be content with the knowledge that memories of those tender Carrey/McGregor moments succeeded in making me a bit misty eyed - not even close to the effect I was expecting this surprisingly great movie to have.

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I Love You Phillip Morris (2010)

Written and Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa.
Starring Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor.

Posted by Andrew

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