Maybe this is reductive of me to say, but I Love You Phillip Morris is Catch Me If You Can with gays.
The film begins with Steven Russell (Jim Carrey), the Red Blooded, if the teensiest bit effeminate, American Male. We follow him as he flits between sexual identities, professions and prisons. Behind his big pearly smile, Steven has always been a conman, or at least filled the boots of one. The movie is from 2009 and I’m pretty sure most people would have seen it, so I’m going to spare you all the details. Long story short, he meets the sweet Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor) in prison, they fall in love and the rest of Steven’s life seems to be dedicated to staying with Phillip, no matter what. The most interesting bit is, the film is based on the story of real life conman Steven Russell, who escaped prison multiple times, always on a Friday the 13th – the real Phillip’s birthday. The poor bastard is now apparently in 23 hour lock up for the rest of his life. Worth it? Apparently.
I thought I Love You Phillip Morris was really cool. Maybe Steven was a little camp, but who’s to say gay men can’t be camp? I liked how, in one movie, they managed to have fully clothed unsatisfying marital sex, ball-slapping anal sex with two men and then the touching romance between Steven and Phillip. And also while I’m there, the blowjob scene? When Steven first gets moved into Phillip’s cell? A lot of the movie wasn’t laugh out loud funny, but that made me laugh so much. I don’t know what the point of it was, because Phillip is supposedly experienced in the art, but it was funny as hell. In fact, one of the great things about the movie was that it wasn’t afraid to poke fun at any of Steven’s relationships – whether it be straight or gay. Yeah, it sometimes mocked “the gay lifestyle” but it was actually pretty funny and even-handed in the way it did so.
Steven seemed to be the kind of person to latch onto different identities to fill a void in himself. No matter how often he lied to Phillip, we were still compelled to like him, which is probably due to the great casting of Jim Carrey. Unlike Frank Abagnale’s frankly (ha!) reckless behaviour, Steven’s antics (while just as smart) never seemed to have a real victim. Similarly, Ewan McGregor was very cute as Phillip, a man who is acutely aware of his vulnerabilities but lets himself get whisked away in love, time and time again. Not that I know anything about the various American accents in the movie, but both of them were just so cute that I can’t get, “Ah lurv yooh Phillip Moore-is”, out of my head.
I love Jim Carrey – he is an asset to any movie he is in, but I wish directors would sometimes use some restraint in using him. He is a great actor, but they can’t resist letting him breaking character to do a “bit” with that elastic face of his. It reminds us that this is Jim Carrey playing a character, and I think this film could have survived without it. Steven was already larger than life. Why can’t directors trust Carrey to act instead of perform?
What an entertaining, unpretentious comedy! I Love You Phillip Morris is so charming it’s almost blinding. It’s a quirky little comedy (for 2009), that tells a fascinating story with good humour and even a little of sentiment.
I Love You Phillip Morris (2009): 8/10