I Love You Phillip Morris DVD Review

I love you Jim Carrey.

Or at least I used to.

When on form, I’ve always found Carrey to be pretty majestic.

Dumb And Dumber, Man On The Moon and Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind all showcase his unique talents and versatility as an actor.

When he’s re-treading old ground, the results can be pretty wretched.

As anyone who’s sat through Fun With Dick And Jane, The Number 23 and Yes Man will no doubt testify.

So it was with a mixture of excitement and fear that I moseyed on down to my local multiplex for I Love You Phillip Morris.

The film is largely told in flashback and opens with a man lying on a hospital gurney, very near death, recounting his life story.

This is Steven Russell, the man who puts the I in I Love You Phillip Morris.

We quickly learn that Russell was given up for adoption, seemingly the formative experience of his childhood, before becoming an upstanding member of his local community in Virginia.

Russell is a deputy police officer, devoted father and a man of faith.

As well as being a committed husband.

Most of the time.

When he’s not fucking other guys.

Which I Love You Phillip Morris takes no little pleasure in graphically depicting for the audience.

It would seem that Russell, like so many of us, has been pretending to be someone he’s not.

A serious car accident finally wakes him from this self inflicted facade and gives Russell the courage to be true to thine own self.

It’s at this point that the film descends into recycling most every gay stereotype imaginable; as Russell sets about reclaiming his identity by playing out more hackneyed clichés then you could shake a bally stick at.

Coincidentally, it was at this point that I gave serious consideration to leaving.

You see, it’s not enough for Russell to simply be gay.

He has to be flaming.

Perhaps this is an accurate depiction of Russell’s real life evolution.

It’s hard to say.

I’d wager this was conveniently exaggerated to give Carrey some very cheap and obvious material for his trademark slapstick bravado.

The thought of wasting an hour of my life on a film so utterly devoid of any wit or originality was more than I could stomach.

Against my gut instinct, I elected to stick it out.

To fund his extravagant and expensive new lifestyle, Russell decides to try life as a con man.

Starting out small, Russell’s fraudulent new career choice quickly snowballs until his recidivist behaviour leads to the inevitable; an enforced stay in one of those well guarded correctional facilities I’ve heard so much about.

And it’s here that the heart of I Love You Phillip Morris is finally revealed, as the film morphs from a crude screwball comedy into a touching drama about that otherness you feel when falling in love.

Admittedly, a romantic comedy involving two men may not be to everyone’s tastes.

But Carrey and Ewan McGregor, who plays the eponymous Phillip Morris, are both suitably convincing that only the most small minded of viewers could fail to be drawn into their burgeoning relationship.

Alas, it would seem that even love isn’t enough to change Russell’s ways as a con artist.

As his relationship with Phillip blossoms, so does the scale and ambition of Russell’s scams.

With inevitable consequences.

The preposterous nature of Russell’s feats stretched the film’s credibility further than most Jim Carrey vehicles.

So much that I concluded the writer must have regularly indulged his or her creative licence.

What’s truly astonishing, after conducting some light research into the life of Steven Russell, was discovering every tall tale was based upon fact.

Which only increased my respect for this real life confidence trickster.

And reinforced my Kafkaesque tinged view of bureaucracy in our society.

In spite of this wonderful source material, as well as bold performances from both Carrey and McGregor, I Love You Phillip Morris suffers from not really knowing what kind of film it wants to be.

Neither a full blown comedy, nor romantic drama; the film struggles to assert its identity, perhaps echoing Steven Russell’s own life.

Which aptly mirrors Jim Carrey’s acting career.

Starting out as a fearless, rubber faced and clown; Carrey’s most memorable cinematic moments have undoubtedly stemmed from his more dramatic roles.

Be it his subtle depiction of Truman Burbank, pitch perfect portrayal of Andy Kauffman or the touching themes found in Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind.

When he’s not trying to make people laugh, we get to hear Carrey’s true voice.

I hope he begins to assert his own identity soon, and starts playing it straight again.

Jonathan Campbell

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August 2010
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