15 December 2010

Review: "I Love You Phillip Morris"

I Love You Phillip Morris first premiered in January 2009 at the Sundance Film Festival and was unable to find a distributor in the United States because of explicit gay sexual content. As a fan of more satirical dark humour, I have never been a fan of Jim Carrey's comedies like Liar Liar (1997) or Yes Man (2008), though he was good in The Truman Show (1998) and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). Needless to say, Jim Carrey has been very hit and miss for me and I find a lot of his work too egotistical. I was intrigued at the prospect of him playing a gay con artist in love with a fellow inmate in prison. Jim Carrey may be the star of the film, but I saw it because of Ewan McGregor. He has not always made the best choices either but he was quite good in Roman Polanski's The Ghost Writer earlier this year. I Love You Phillip Morris is based on the real-life story of Steven Jay Russell, played by Jim Carrey, who was a con artist and escaped from prison multiple times. It is the directorial debut of Glenn Ficarra and his writing partner John Requa, who wrote the screenplays for Cats & Dogs (2001) and Bad News Bears (2004). There is a lot of humour in the film and I feel that Jim Carrey delivers one of his best performances in the film. Steven Jay Russell is an over-the-top character and Carrey acts with a real comedic flair without overacting. I Love You Phillip Morris is clever and quirky and Jim Carrey deserves a lot of recognition for his best and most memorable performance since Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Steven Jay Russell (Carrey) is a happily married police officer living in Texas. He reveals that the only reason he joined the police forced was to find his biological mother who gave him up for adoption. She immediately rejects him when he goes to meet her and he decides to leave his wife (Leslie Mann) and move to Miami to be his true self, an out and proud gay man. He finds a boyfriend (Rodrigo Santoro) and discovers that the life of a gay man is expensive. Steven resorts to committing insurance fraud and eventually finds himself in prison. While in prison he meets Phillip Morris (McGregor), a kind and sensitive man, and the two fall in love. Steven has a great devotion to Phillip and goes to great lengths to stay together. Eventually both men are released from prison and Steven goes back to his old tricks, posing as a lawyer and gets a job at a large firm and begins stealing money. Steven finds himself back in jail and stops at nothing to reunite with Phillip, which even results in Phillip finding himself back in prison.

Jim Carrey has proven himself to be a gifted comedian in I Love You Phillip Morris despite his less than stellar track record in recent years. There is a reason audiences found him so endearing in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994). With a less talented pair of actors the film would have fallen flat and the love story between Steven and Phillip would have been unbelievable. Jim Carrey commits himself to the role of Steven Jay Russell and he becomes a gay man. He has instant chemistry with Ewan McGregor, who is no stranger to provocative roles, notably Velvet Goldmine (1998) and Young Adam (2003). It is a shame that the film failed to get distribution until now. I am not a fan of censorship whatsoever and I think that films should be allowed to be challenging and provocative. It is ludicrous that films with extreme violence can be screened across North America but films with any semblance of sexuality are deemed too explicit. When will we as a culture be able to stop labeling characters as gay or straight? I Love You Phillip Morris may be about two gay men finding love, but it is still a love story full of humour and emotion.

My rating: 3 stars out of 4.

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