Reviewed by GREG KING
Directors: Glenn Ficarra and John Requa
Stars: Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor, Rodrigo Santoro,.
I Love You Phillip Morris is a black comedy loosely based on the true story of Steven Jay Russell, a flamboyant conman currently serving a prison sentence of 144 years.
Russell (played by Jim Carrey) at various times acted as a doctor, lawyer, FBI agent, and even the CFO of a major corporation, embezzling millions of dollars along the way to fund his lavish lifestyle. He spent a lot of time in and out of prison and on the run from the authorities. His character is similar to that played by Leonardo Di Caprio in Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can.
When we first meet Russell he is the poster child for white, middle America. He is a married man with two young children. He is also a police officer who plays the organ in the local church every Sunday. But when a car accident lands him in hospital, Russell decides that he is gay and undergoes a transformation. He moves to Miami Beach and lives with his toy boy Latin lover Jimmy (Rodrigo Santoro). “Being gay is really expensive,” he says. To support their flamboyant, lavish lifestyle, Russell uses fake cheques and credit cards.
Eventually he is caught and imprisoned in Texas, which is where he first meets Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor), a handsome but timid prisoner who becomes the love of his life. After being released from prison Russell poses as a lawyer and secures the release of Morris. Phillip enjoyed the good life, funded by Russell’s scams, but he was also somewhat naïve. Morris was also frustrated with the continual schemes and the trouble they caused.
Written and directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (the team behind Bad Santa, Cats And Dogs, etc), I Love You Phillip Morris is based on the book written by Steve McVicker. Despite being based on a true story, the material at times requires something of a suspension of disbelief. The film chiefly concentrates on the relationship between the two men, and they wring laughs from some touchy subject matter. The scene where they both dance to Johnny Mathis singing Chances Are is unexpectedly touching. This is the first directorial outing for Ficarra and Requa, and their handling of the material is uneven. There are a few flat spots in the chaotic and very busy script, and a hint of unnecessary padding in the middle.
However, they have given Carrey his best role for quite some time. He is perfectly cast as the charismatic and sociopathic Russell, and his performance here is unusually animated. While he delivers a more nuanced and sympathetic performance, there are still plenty of moments in which he demonstrates his gift for manic comedy and impressions. Carrey provides the often-amusing voice over narration, but here he is the very embodiment of the unreliable narrator.
McGregor is miscast as Phillip, and he seems uncomfortable with the demands of his role, which is a little surprising given that he has played sexually ambiguous roles before. There also seems to be a lack of chemistry between the extroverted, flamboyant and over the top Carrey and the more laid back and timid McGregor.
The gay sex angle is quite risque and explicit for a mainstream Hollywood film, although the humour helps temper the subject matter. However, the film (which premiered at Sundance in 2009) underwent some minor tweaking before its belated and limited US release. Undeniably fast-paced and funny, although at times chaotic, I Love You Phillip Morris is an interesting, sweet natured, bold and uncomfortably black comedy that is worth a look.