May 28, 2011

Queer Review: I Love You Phillip Morris (2009)

I Love You Phillip Morris
Directors: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Writer: John Requa, Glenn Ficarra. Based upon the novel by Steve McVicker.
Cast: Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor, Antoni Corone, Rodrigo Santoro, Leslie Mann

For a comedy starring both Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor, I Love You Phillip Morris somehow managed to do a wonderful, although unfortunate, job of flying under the radar. However, this fast moving picture that sounds like it is about battling cigarette addiction, is really the story of a man who has no identity and yet still desperately seeking his true love.

Police Officer Steven Russell (Jim Carrey) is happily married and enjoying a "normal" life, when he makes the unfortunate decision to track down his birth mother. When she denies that he is even hers, he gets upset, quits the force, and moves away. Later, after an unfortunately timed car accident, Steven reveals to his wife (Leslie Mann) that he is gay and becomes a con artist to pay for what he terms "the expensive gay lifestyle". When Steven is caught, he winds up in prison where he meets Philip Morris (Ewan McGregor) and the two fall fast in love. Once they are reunited outside prison, Steven gets a job as a Chief Financial Officer (even though he lacks the credentials, education, and the necessary experience) and is soon engaged in yet another con job that lands him in jail yet again.

The Queering
First off, it is important to note that Steven Russell is a real person who managed to escape from prison multiple times in a narrative so preposterous, it seems that it could only be the province of fiction. But this movie is entirely true. Every single word of it. In fact, it might as well have been a documentary. And if you believe that, I have a bridge I want to sell you.

In any case, this fast paced, whip smart, and consistently entertaining comedy about two gay lovers makes for a fun con job of a film. What I find remarkable though, is that this story, which includes several scenes of gay sex, was able to land two major stars, Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor. It is hard to think of a more perfect role for the rubber faced impersonator Jim Carrey than a con man who takes on several identities. The only performance of Carrey's that compares would be the one he gave in The Truman Show. Ewan McGregor is good, even though he tends to fade into the background at times, though I would excuse this as his character is supposed to be a bit of a wallflower.

At the heart of I Love You Phillip Morris is a tender love story between two mismatched individuals. There are some raunchier elements to the comedy, but these are mere window dressing. Steven Russell claims - although many reasonable people might have reason to doubt him - that his attempts to escape prison were for the love of his life, Philip Morris. These attempts, which are shown later on in the film, include dying some scrubs using felt pens to make green scrubs so he could impersonate a doctor and faking his own death by AIDS.

Altogether, the character of Steven Morris is a fascinating enigma and I bet there will be many post-screening discussions as to whether he was a bad guy for the crimes that he committed or merely another flawed human. While one may wish to know more about him, and the article I love you Phillip Morris: a conman's story may shed some insight into the matter, he remains somewhat of a blank slate. While this ambiguity may bother some people, I would argue it is fact the film's greatest strength.

Highly recommended. Can be easily enjoyed by all audiences.

The Rating


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