“I Love You Phillip Morris” Review
Out of all the major cinematic questions that have burned in my mind over the last decade or so, one is beginning to boil over. What in the world is it going to take for Jim Carrey to ever get nominated for an Oscar? He did more than enough proving during his stellar work in “The Truman Show,” followed it up with a compelling portrayal in “Man on the Moon,” and topping it off with perhaps one of the most honest and heartfelt performances of the decade with “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”
Now, he kicks off the start of the new decade with perhaps his best, and easily his funniest performance of all time in “I Love You Phillip Morris,” the uproarious new comedy by Glenn Ficarra and John Pequa.
This film has had a truly rocky time getting its distribution nailed down. It first premiered TWO YEARS AGO at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, and has since been tossed around from studio to studio unable to secure a true release. Due to both distribution finance troubles and the film’s explicit gay themes, which tended to scare investors away, the film was repeatedly passed over for release. However, we can all be thankful that this movie is finally playing in front of a wider audience for it is one not only to be enjoyed, but relished in.
It tells the somehow true, though I’m sure over-exagerrated, account of Steven Russell (Carrey), lawyer, cop, con artist, escape artist and homosexual extraordinaire. He started off as a regular meat-and-potatoes, god-fearing man, but after a severe car accident, he begins living his life way out loud as an openly gay sensationalist. However, his new lifestyle also brought with it a drive to commit massive amounts of theft and fraud, which eventually lands him in prison. This is where he meets the love of his life, Phillip Morris, played with a sensitive flair by Ewan McGregor. After leaving confinement, Russell cannot escape his criminal ways and eventually breaks up his perfect new life with Morris and finds himself being taken back to prison, again, and again….and again.
I can honestly say, with full confidence, that without the magic of Jim Carrey, this film might not be half as phenomenal. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a performance from the actor that carries so much range. The film is a showcase of nearly all his talents, from being an unrivaled force of slapstick physicality to a shining beam of heartfelt humanity. Carrey really does carry (no pun intended) himself unlike any actor, perhaps, who ever lived. He has such levels of confidence and bravado that will someday put him in the ranks of screen comic legend, up with the likes of Gene Wilder, Jack Lemmon, and yes, perhaps even Buster Keaton. I dare not say Charlie Chaplin for fear of an angry mob outside my door.
As far as the film, itself, goes, there are definitely some highlights. One noticeable aspect of the mis en scene is the indefinite use of the sunny day. Never does it snow, rain, or really explore any type of weather aside from the most beautiful and desirable conditions that any vacationer or retiree could ever hope for. This reflects the constant high that Steven gets off of living. Even as his path darkens into a life of crime and evasiveness, there’s never a storm cloud on his horizon.
This film is just a barrel of fun. Jim Carrey is at his comic best. Ewan McGregor is his perfect opposite. The screenplay is crisp, hilarious and never, EVER boring. There’s really something for everyone…well, except (and I’m sorry to put it so bluntly) homophobes. And I guess that’s one of the most intriguing parts of this film is the mirror that it holds up to the present climate of society. I would say, “to each, his own,” but I’m sorry, that just isn’t cutting it anymore.
If it weren’t for the bigots, as well as the general sense of puritanical hatred that somehow still survives in this country, this film would not just be known as “the gay Jim Carrey movie,” but would rather be setting the standard for today’s romantic comedy, a genre that isn’t exactly generating any classics these days. Another way of putting it, in a civilized, intelligent and fair-minded society, a fantastic piece of cinema like this would not have to sit on the shelf to for two years, but rather making audiences laugh, everywhere.
GRADES: B+ * * * * / * * * * * 8.4 / 10.0