Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 38 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Sexual Content including Strong Dialogue, and Language
Directed by: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Written by: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Starring: Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor, Leslie Mann, Rodrigo Santoro
Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction. This is one of those times. I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS is a movie that defies being lumped into any specific genre. Funny, tender, and heartfelt, it’s all inspired by the real life story of Steven Russell, a gay con-man who found love within the confines of his prison walls. This film also features the best performance I’ve seen Jim Carrey give in his whole career, while Ewan McGregor shines as well.
Steven Russell is a seemingly straight-laced police officer with a wife and child, but he’s also been living a secret life of indulging in his homosexual fantasies. This is because Steven Russell is gay and always has been. He’s been keeping this little secret from everybody, obviously his wife. After a near death experience, Steven comes out and lives his lifestyle out in the open. He finds that being gay is really expensive, so he becomes a con-man. After being found out and making two feeble escape attempts, Russell is thrown behind bars. This where he meets Phillip Morris (a blond-haired blue-eyed gay fellow) and destiny strikes. Steven and Phillip fall madly in love with each other. Steven pledges that he’ll take care of Phillip in every way possible, but old habits die hard.
In all honesty, the story of Steven Russell doesn’t sound like a very exciting one on paper. (The film is a true story, but some might consider the next sentence a spoiler.) It’s about a con-artist who’s arrested, finds love, and goes back into crime which takes him back behind bars, from which he makes many brilliant (but not quite brilliant enough) escapes. It doesn’t sound like the typical Hollywood love story or a kind of film that would fit the mainstream audience at all and to be fair, it’s probably not.
Those uncomfortable with the idea of homosexuality might find themselves extremely uncomfortable for the duration of this movie. It is admirable that the film doesn’t make the gay aspect of the love story into a gimmick though. In fact, it’s treated with dignity and respect. There are a couple of jokes thrown in here and there, but it’s all in good fun. This isn’t a shock value film, but instead it’s almost like a quirky surreal comedy….but this one really happened.
The film is thoroughly entertaining from frame one. After all, Steven Russell was adopted and finds out where his mother (who gave him up) lives, but he certainly doesn’t expect what else he discovers. It’s absolutely mind-boggling that this stuff actually happened and it amplifies the film’s hilarity tenfold. There is a true moment of realization where the viewer is so wrapped up in the fascinating story of Steven’s odd criminal life that we actually wake up to the idea that we are rooting for this slimy, cheating con-man, but that just shows how well-executed I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS is.
As Steven Russell, Jim Carrey takes on a serious character with some crazy tendencies (mostly shown in a brilliant montage of one escape attempt after another). With a Southern drawl and a change in sexual orientation, Carrey fully inhabits the persona of Steven Russell. Ewan McGregor is also great as the bashful Phillip Morris, who still remains devoted to Steven, despite some of his wrongdoings. One moment near the tail end of the movie between them feels so sincere and heartfelt that it actually made me tear up. Of course, there was a well-placed laugh shortly afterwards, but it doesn’t dismiss that it got a strong reaction out of me.
In the end, the balance of comedy and romance is a line finely walked. It’s rare to see a film these days with those concepts that dares to step out of the box, but I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS stands as a middle finger to chick flicks and generic rom-coms. This is a heartfelt combination of oddball comedy, sincere drama, and a touching romance. In reality, Steven Russell made such a mockery of the state of Texas and Governor George Bush, that he’s currently serving a life sentence and the film makes you feel a bit bad for the guy. Yes, he’s a con-man, but he also experienced love and desperately wants to get it back. If you’re open-minded enough, then you might wind up loving I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS!