I Love You, Phillip Morris Review
Hollywood actors it seems carry on a consistent trajectory over the course of their careers; they first slug it out slums of obscurity before breaking into the mainstream. Next, they usually fall victim to phenomenon such as money-grubbing in subpar or big-budget productions, typecasting and/or overall laziness. Though after they tire of bumming around soulless projects, many revert back to their roots, exploring interesting and risky material (often adapting material themselves since money is no longer an object). After a string of $100 million plus megahits, Jim Carrey has done just that with the low budget I Love You, Phillip Morris, and perhaps then it is no surprise this is one of the best movies (and performances) of his auspicious career.
This is a movie unlike anything Carrey has done before and even with the seemingly overt gay themes aside, this is a demanding, darkly humoured and rather unglamorous role for the comedian. To give you what I think to be a rather apt indicator of if this movie is to your taste, one would only need turn their attention to the director’s two previous screenwriting efforts Bad Santa
and Bad News Bears
. Foul mouthed and incredibly twisted, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa’s films are not for everyone, but if this is your style, you will be on the floor laughing more than once during the deadpan pleasures of “Phillip Morris.”
Aside from the mirthful comedy at its forefront, what makes this film more special yet is it exists as a superb con-man film, thanks in no small part to the real life Steven Russell (portrayed by Carrey in the film) whose unbelievable exploits gave inspiration for this adaptation. In the film, Russell is a cop, family man and happy church-going Christian whose life is somewhat upheaved, when after years of searching for his biological mother, the eventual reunion does not quite go to plan. That upheaval spirals into a full out epiphany after a serious car crash which leads Steven to decide that he is in fact, gay. Leaving his wife (Leslie Mann), he moves to
Miami to lead his new flamboyant lifestyle. But as he says in the movie “being gay is expensive” and in order to maintain this new persona he turns to fraud and con jobs. Landing himself in prison, he meets the timid Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor) and the two fall in love. Steven, however, struggles with his manipulative personality and need for grandeur, and things continue to spiral out of control.
The real Steven Russell is currently serving a whopping 144 years for his many crimes which include landing a job with phony credentials as the CFO of North American Medical Management (where he proceeded to embezzle hundreds of thousands) and perhaps most notably escaping from prison five times, one of which included an incredibly complex illusion which is depicted in the film to great effect. Carrey embodies this fascinating character and considering the actor’s status, for us to forget it is him we’re watching is a feat all in itself. Ewan McGregor is also fantastic in a vastly polar role to Carrey’s. His sweet innocence and naivety is continually taken advantage of by Russell, though whether it is intentional or not is one of the many interesting questions posed in this feature.
I urge everyone to look past this film’s “gay” subject matter, because that constitutes so little of the running time, and is ultimately linked to so few of this movie’s true roots and intents, you will forget all about it by the end credits. If you love either dark comedy, Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor, con man films, prison escape films or any combination of the former, you will find a lot to love in “Phillip Morris”.
I Love You, Phillip Morris
Directed by: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Written by: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Starring: Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor, Leslie Mann, Rodrigo Santoro