Carrey is perfect as Steven and shows us once again how truly versatile and talented he is as an actor.
I Love You Phillip Morris is not a movie for everyone. That is not a slight to the film by any means. People who getthe type of humor in the movie will love the absurdity and ludicrousness of the story and those who don’t will just chalk it up to poor filmmaking. In fact, Phillip Morris is a refreshingly unique movie that, after almost two years in distribution limbo, is finally seeing the light of day.
Jim Carrey plays Steven Russell, who is the star of both the movie we are watching and the one playing out in his own mind. Steven is a con man with sociopathic tendencies whose only motivation is money and possessions. Though the movie is based on a true story from the book written by Steve McVicker, co-writers/directors John Requa and Glenn Ficarra make it fairly obvious from the outset that Steven Russell is probably one of the most unreliable narrators of all time. Because we are watching the movie through his eyes, we should be wary about believing that everything happened exactly how he tells it.
Steven starts out as the ideal husband and family man who goes to church regularly, enjoys his job as a police officer and gives his wife (Leslie Mann) plenty of pleasure in the bedroom. After a near fatal car accident, Steven finally has an epiphany and begins living his life as the gay man he has always known himself to be. He moves to Miami Beach, begins spending extravagantly and lives what he believes is the perfect gay lifestyle.
Of course, his world comes crashing down when the massive amount of fraud he has been perpetrating to maintain his lifestyle is exposed. He is sent to prison and there meets the love of his life, Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor). Phillip is a soft-spoken, innocent man with whom Steven is immediately smitten. And because Steven knows how to work the system inside prison and is able to get him anything he wants, Phillip becomes enamored of Steven in return.
The movie’s true genius is its depiction of the blossoming love between the two men in seemingly the most unromantic place in the world. The two hardly notice that they are in prison and live their lives just like any other couple, except for their limited range of mobility.
Directors Requa and Ficarra do an excellent job of balancing Steven’s ridiculous antics with believable storytelling that make us almost buy everything Steven is telling us. Though he is a vain and greedy man, we root for him because of how clever he is in his conniving ways. There are several moments of “Wow, that’s brilliant!” that keep the audience on Steven’s side. As screenwriters, the duo does a wonderful job of giving Steven just enough humanity to make him relatable and likeable.
Carrey is perfect as Steven and shows us once again how truly versatile and talented he is as an actor. In any other hands, the performance could have been a complete failure, but Carrey goes way over-the-top in just the right way for this character.
I Love You Phillip Morris will not entertain everyone (remember: it’s coming from the guys who wrote Bad Santa), but for those who enjoy this brand of humor and style of filmmaking it will be one of this year’s top movies. | Matthew F. Newlin