Monday, June 21, 2010

Review – I Love You, Phillip Morris

I Love You, Phillip Morris – U.S., 2009

Steven Russell (Jim Carrey) is a man in need of unconditional love. He needs for people to throw their arms around him and assure him that he is worthy of affection and respect just the way he is. It’s a message that he may not have gotten enough from either of his two sets of parents, not from his birth mother, who apparently sold him in a parking lot or from his adoptive parents, who inform him that he is an orphan in the same way they would relate a clever anecdote from work. As for his childhood friends, let’s just say that they did not see eye to eye with him on everything, especially when it came to the shape of clouds. And so young Steven Russell, in an effort to prove that he is indeed someone worth keeping, sets out to be the best person that he can be. He joins a church, becomes a police officer, gets married, and has a beautiful daughter. In many films, this by itself would be enough to fill ninety minutes of screen time. In I Love You, Phillip Morris, it’s just the opening scene.

See Steven Russell’s public life is a lie. However, after finally meeting the woman who gave him up and yelling outside her screen door – on her birthday, no less – “What was wrong with me?” - a question for which he never really receives a response – Steven moves his family to Texas. There, he gets into a nearly fatal traffic accident and vows to finally live life in his own way, as an openly gay man. This prompts his wife to unleash her special variation of a colorful metaphor, “Cheese and crackers.” I’d say she takes the news pretty well, all things considered. Now out of the closet, Steven soon finds the bliss he has been looking for all these years. There’s only tiny problem. As Steven informs us during his opening narrative, “Being gay is really expensive.” It may be the funniest line of the year. So just how does he support such as expensive lifestyle, you might ask? Well, crime, of course.

What unfolds next is a mad mix of almost surreal moments interspersed with a rather touching story of two people in love. Steven goes to jail, meets a fellow inmate named Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor), and soon the two of them are holding each other close during the closing moments of a jailhouse screening of Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, while the inmate seated in front of them does something he really shouldn’t be doing in such a public setting. Later, jokes are made concerning Philip’s mannerisms during more intimate moments. They have to do with him using his teeth a bit too much. Funny? Sure. A little unnerving? You bet, but no more so than some of the things Ben Stiller and Cameron Diaz did in There’s Something About Mary. Will everyone be comfortable with it? Absolutely not, but then again few films with the exception of some animated films have truly universal appeal.

I Love You, Phillip Morris was written and directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa. It is the directorial debut for both of these men, and I have a feeling that both of them have bright futures in front of them. The film also contains two exceptional performances. The first is by Jim Carrey, who reminds us just how well he can play both comedy and drama. The second is by Ewan McGregor, who plays Phillip as if he were both a naïve teenager who has just developed his first crush and a grown man fully aware of how dangerous the world can be. He seems quite content to become a kept husband, despite his misgivings over the source of Steven’s money. After all, who gets a bonus big enough to afford his and his cars?

I Love You, Phillip Morris will likely be known later for two things: being ahead of its time and pushing the envelope a little further regarding what we consider comic material. While the film has been released in much of the rest of the world, its U.S. release has been pushed back for the fourth time, the latest delay being the result of a dispute between EuropaCorp and Consolidated over payment for distribution rights. However, even if this dispute is eventually resolved, there is no guarantee that the film will ever hit the silver screen. The film’s website has already been taken down, and while the film presently has a release date of October 2010 on some calendars, others feature the dreaded abbreviation “TBD.” The film has already played in many other countries and been released on DVD, making it all the more likely that the film will be leaked online before it even gets a chance to be seen in American theaters. Unfortunately, there’s already some evidence that this has happened.

I’m not suggesting that the film will be everyone’s cup of tea. In fact, judging from some of the comments on IMDB already, some viewers have had some strong reactions to it, some even going so far as to walk out of the film or proclaim it to be rather horrible. It isn’t. It isn't a masterpiece, either. However, the film has both heart and humor, and it is consistently interesting and funny. It deserves a chance to be discovered. (on DVD in Regions 2 and 3; currently unavailable in the United States)

3 and a half stars

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