Film

Strange But True ‘Phillip Morris’

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Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor in "I Love You, Phillip Morris"

Love can make you do crazy things. Maybe it will make you overspend on a gift, or stay up all night talking on the phone, or repeatedly break out of a Texas penitentiary.
OK, so that last one really only applies to Steven Russell, a real-life conman who kept escaping from jail just to be with the man he loved.
This strange-but-true saga is the basis for the odd, but endearing movie “I Love You Phillip Morris.”
Steven is played by Jim Carrey, the manic comedian who has also proven himself to be a decent actor. This role has been called daring, but its really only daring in the sense of a straight actor playing a homosexual and let’s be honest, that’s not as daring as it used to be.
In truth, this role is safely within Carrey’s wheelhouse. Steven’s identity is as pliable as Carrey’s features and he hides his frauds and embezzlements behind a lot of false bravado.
When we first meet Steven he is walking the straight and narrow as a police officer married to a goodhearted Christian woman named Debbie (Leslie Mann). But a car wreck makes Steven reevaluate his life and he decides to be honest about his homosexuality, which, incidentally, is probably the last thing he is ever completely honest about.
He sets out on a new, extravagant lifestyle that requires a lot of less-than-legal schemes to attain the cash required. He quickly lands in jail where he meets the love of his life, the titular Phillip Morris.
Phillip is played by Ewan McGregor as a blonde-haired, soft-voiced, babe-in-the-woods who landed in jail for failing to return a rental car. It is love at first sight for Steven and Phillip, but their whirlwind romance, both in and out of prison is constantly marred by Steven continually playing fast and loose with the truth.
But if anything is a constant for Steven, it is his love of Phillip, and when he winds up back in prison, he perpetrates one ingenious escape after another to get back to Phillip.
I suppose if you had to categorize “I Love You Phillip Morris” it would have to be a comedy, mostly due to the completely absurd nature of Steven’s various hijinks. But there is a soft heart at the center of this movie and it boldly steers into the drama and romance genres as well.
The credit for this ambiguity working as well as it does goes to co-writers-and-directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa. This dynamic duo wrote the deliciously black comedy “Bad Santa” so they are quite comfortable playing in the extreme ends of the comedic sandbox.
Once you are able to get past the insanity of the plot (a vast majority of which is completely factual, by the way), the movie rests on the shoulders of Carrey and McGregor. It’s no surprise to see Carrey hit all of his marks as his versatility has been proven time and time again, but it’s McGregor who truly impresses as he conjures up a character that is so delicate and sweet he becomes the perfect counterpoint to Carrey’s aggressive performance.
You are certain to laugh at “I Love You Phillip Morris” but even more so you’ll find yourself impressed by the power of love and what it makes us capable of. Granted if you are a sociopath you’ll be able to take it that extra mile, but still it’s love that makes the world go ‘round.
“I Love You Phillip Morris” is rated R for sexual content including strong dialogue, and language.

Mat DeKinder (mdekinder@yourjournal.com) was once described by a guy named Nate as “the Jackie Moon of film critics.” He appears courtesy of Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis.

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