By: Addison Wylie
Being moved from release date to release date to release date, I Love You Phillip Morris has had a tough time finding love outside the festival circuit in North America. It’s a shame though, because I Love You Phillip Morris was a captivating, hilarious watch. I’m really confused as to why this film is getting pushed and shot around like a metallic ball in a pinball machine. Maybe it’s because of the homosexual overtones or the graphic language in the sex scenes. Studios may be worried that a good percentage of audiences still feel uncomfortable when talks of homosexual activities are discussed and joked around with and even shown. It may also be that when Steven Russell and Phillip Morris establish a relationship, the subject matter is treated so nonchalantly, audiences may not be able to take it seriously. If this is the case, it’s really disappointing. It’s disappointing because the gay elements present in the film aren’t necessarily a big part to the movie itself. Like The Kids Are All Right, another film with a gay relationship, I Love You Phillip Morris downplays these details. The details are a wee bit more flamboyant than the former mentioned movie but they are downplayed nevertheless. The film is more so about trying to fit in. Trying to find that one love of your life and trying to be an individual people will look up to. With a hilarious script and polished characters, I Love You Phillip Morris is definitely a film that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Steven Russell, played by Jim Carrey, is a very confused man. As a Christian police officer in a small town as well as being involved in a very understanding, loving family, Steven doesn’t feel as if he’s accomplished enough. After a surprising car accident, Steven decides to follow his heart to the fullest and decides to take his hidden gay persona out of the closet. Steven moves to a big, bright city and takes part in multiple relationships. What Steven shortly realizes is that being gay is expensive. Because this new, open lifestyle is where Steven feels comfortable, he decides to find ways to make more cash; even if it means that he breaks the law. Steven takes part in multiple insurance fraud incidents and collects cheque after cheque. However, all fun times come to an end and Russell is sent to prison. It is here where Steven meets Phillip Morris, played by Ewan McGregor, and the two immediately click. The two are head over heels for one another and are attached at the hip. However, when Steven’s jail time is finished, he is not happy with the fact that Phillip is still behind bars. It’s Steven’s goal to be with Phillip until the end of time and he will do whatever it takes to fulfill his dream.
Again, it really is too bad the film keeps getting pushed onto the back burner because there is a lot in here that is stellar. First, the performances. Carrey proves yet again that he is one of the strongest actors working in film today. He is able to add multiple levels to this character and manipulate a viewer’s emotions like they were silly putty. At one point, an audience member could feel completely annoyed by Russell’s in-your-face persona but the viewer never stops caring about his goals. When we see Russell committing a crime and using people as if they were marionettes, we want to see him succeed. Carrey is able to make the audience feel a thousand different emotions at once and he creates one of the most convincing, memorable portrayals I’ve seen this year. McGregor does a great job as Phillip Morris who surprisingly has limited screen time. However, McGregor is able to use every minute of this time in order to persuade the audience with his character. We don’t know much about Morris when we are first introduced but McGregor’s portrayal gives us very subtle details as to how his life used to be outside jail. The supporting characters are well played as well. Leslie Mann plays Steve’s ex-wife, Debbie, in a role that takes a step out of the characters Mann is used to playing. Overall, the acting is extremely above par.
The script is also really well written; balancing comedy with tragedy. The comedy in this film is dark, sometimes extremely dark, but screenwriters John Requa and Glenn Ficarra are able to tell a joke and make the joke fit in the content. When doing the research, these two screenwriters have previously written one of the best dark comedies in recent memory, Bad Santa. These two are very familiar with going down a dark road with a fat smile planted on their faces. Whether the jokes are physical gags or, as people say, “smart” comedy, these two nail every funny situation in this film. That said, the tragic situations and feelings presented by the characters feel very developed and three-dimensional. Even at times when the characters seem like cartoons, it feels right and fits right in with the script. It’s such a perfect balance and I can’t stress that enough. My only gripe with the script is that the crime situations seem almost too easy to execute. For instance, Steven is in a grocery store and planning to pull off another scam. He pours some oil on the floor and intentionally slips on the mess. The scam goes well and Steven collects a cheque. This situation is hilarious but makes me start accumulating questions. Where are the security cameras in this building? If so, why didn’t anyone check the tapes? And absolutely no one saw him pour the oil? I mean, he takes a good couple of seconds to pour the oil. No customers or employees saw him pour it and slip? It’s instances like this that make me a little skeptical. These two also directed the film and do some interesting and creative manoeuvres with articulating their vision for the big screen.
I really hope I Love You Phillip Morris manages to dig itself out of the funk it currently is in. This is a film that is a juggling act; a juggling act that happens to be a major accomplishment. The film has many laughs, many intense scenes where people will be in awe, and an abundance of emotion. It’s definitely an unconventional film but in a world of remakes and sequels, it’s nice to be reminded that films like this are being made. Plus, by this being based on a true story it makes the story behind the film even more remarkable.