I Love You Philip Morris *** ½
Directed by: Glenn Ficarra & John Requa.
Written By: John Requa & Glenn Ficarra based on the book by Steven McVicker.
Starring: Jim Carrey (Steven Russell), Ewan McGregor (Phillip Morris), Leslie Mann (Debbie), Rodrigo Santoro (Jimmy Kemple).
It kind of saddens me that here we are in 2010, and yet we still refer to straight actors who play gay characters as “brave”, and that for the most part in Hollywood movies, gay characters are still mainly caracitures, and not real people. Even a great movie like Brokeback Mountain portrays being gay as a burden, and its protagonists as tragic heroes. That’s much better than being the flaming sidekick in a romantic comedy, and was a necessary step to take (even if it should have happened years ago). We aren’t really going to move forward until they make more movies like I Love You Philip Morris – which is an unabashedly jubilant, complex look at a gay man who is happy and sexually satisfied.
Steven Russell (Jim Carrey) is married to a wonderful woman, Debbie (Leslie Mann), is a police officer and the organist at his church. He loves Debbie in his way, and adores his daughter, but he isn’t happy. He is living a double life – sneaking off to have sex with men whenever he has the time. He gets into a car accident, and when he wakes up, he is determined to live the way he wants to – and that means leaving his wife, and coming out of the closet. But as he soon finds out – “being gay is really expensive”. He cannot afford to live the way he wants to by honest means, so he becomes a con artist. Credit card fraud, insurance fraud – whatever will bring him a little extra cash, to allow him and his boyfriend Jimmy (Rodrigo Santoro) to live they way Steven thinks they should. Of course, he is caught, Jimmy leaves him, and he goes to jail. And its there where he meets Philip Morris (Ewan McGregor) – the love of his life. There will be more scams, more prison escapes, more money, more lies, more everything in this film before it all comes crashing down.
The heart of the movie is Jim Carrey – and his exuberant and brilliant performance as Russell. Carrey has always been a great actor underneath his rubber face that he whips out for his big budgeted comedies. When he wants to – like in The Truman Show, Man on the Moon and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – he can restrain himself, and becomes a great actor. I Love You Philip Morris is one of his best performances because he doesn’t restrain himself – and yet he remains a believable character as well. Russell is a larger than life character, and Carrey captures him in all his conflicted, charming glory. You could criticize him for going over the top if you want to – but that’s just where Carrey should be for most of this movie. McGregor is fine in his role as his love interest – the ever supportive “wife” – but this is Carrey’s show from beginning to end, and he delivers a forceful performance that is not easily forgotten. It is one of the best things he has ever done.
Written and directed by Glen Ficcara and John Requa (the writers behind Bad Santa), I Love You Philip Morris is a funny, charming love story between these two gay men. It doesn’t paint them as saints or tragic heroes or sidekicks – but as normal people, head over heels in love, and the lengths in which one of them will go to provide the other with everything they could ever want.
I Love You Philip Morris is a very interesting film – it is a comedy, but not one that makes you laugh constantly, but rather on that you smile at throughout. It is a rather daring picture of Russell and his life – turning this conman into an anti hero of sorts. The direction of the film is superb- keeping things moving throughout. But it really is Carrey’s performance that makes the movie work. He fits into the role effortlessly – while he goes over the top, there is not mugging in the film, and you never have trouble accepting him in the role. It is a great performance, by an actor who may be entering another phase of his career – one that is even more interesting than where he has gone before.