Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor, Leslie Mann
Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Glenn Ficarra, John Requa, Steve McVicker (book)
Audio commentary with producer Andrew Lazar and writers/directors John Requa & Glenn Ficarra
• “The Making of I Love You Phillip Morris” featurette
• Theatrical trailers
If there's one film where I have detoured away from the opinions of the majority of film critics this year, one of the most pronounced examples would have to be in the Jim Carrey-led indie project I Love You Phillip Morris.
Based upon the true story of Steven Russell, the film seems an obvious project for the often larger than life portrayals of Carrey. Steven Russell is a married, church-going good ole' boy who lives the straight and narrow path until a nearly fatal car accident transforms his entire psyche'. After the accident, Russell comes out as a gay man determined to live the prosperous life and willing to do just about anything, even if illegal, to make that happen. When his actions finally lead to his imprisonment, Russell hooks up with Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor), in the kind of love that can best be described as obsessive with ample doses of psycho and romance woven together.
There are times in life when a film simply doesn't work for someone, and I can't help but wonder if such is the case for me with I Love You Phillip Morris, a comedy that never made me laugh (and I mean never!) and a film that seems to confuse cheesy for melodrama. Carrey has received praise from many critics for his larger than life performance that allegedly blends equal parts tenderness and broad comedy. At times, it feels like our cowboys from Brokeback Mountain have gone to prison, become corporate cheats and decided that living in the closet is for the birds. This feels like a performance that is being recognized because Carrey is playing "gay," rather than because Carrey is playing an intriguing character who happens to be gay.
Yes, there's a huge difference and I never saw that difference in Carrey, whose cartoonishness wore thin and whose con-man shtick was too laughably silly to be believable even if this is based upon a true story.
If there's an award-worthy performance in the film, it exists with Ewan McGregor, who is rather sweet and gentle as the subject of Steven's affections who is simultaneously spooked and swept up by Russell's over-amorous efforts to win his heart. There is a scene where Phillip and Steven slow dance in their jail cell to a golden oldie that may be among one of the most romantic scenes captured on film this year, mostly due to McGregor's simple and sweet surrender to the moment that will completely make your heart melt.
The movie is penned by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, also responsible for the delightfully dark holiday comedy Bad Santa, a film that fired on all cylinders and ultimately satisfied on an infinitely greater level than does this film. I suppose it seems appropriate that a film about a two-faced man would appear to have two faces itself. The biggest problem with I Love You Phillip Morris, though, is that this sorta comeback vehicle for Jim Carrey caters far too often to the Carrey shtick with the actor mugging for the camera and occasionally dipping into his sea of physical comedy that distracts far too much from the goings on of Steven Russell. Carrey's Steven Russell seems like more predator than pretty boy, an obstacle that the actor never overcomes and one that ultimately keeps the film from achieving any degree of cinematic success.
It seems impossible to believe that this could, in fact, be based upon a true story if the portrayal of Steven Russell is even remotely accurate as a larger than life predatory buffoon whose impulses are outshined only by his ability to flash a smile and escape from virtually any situation including four times from prison in real life while having successfully embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars. The real Steven Russell is currently serving a 144-year prison term in Texas, the result of his multiple escapes, embezzlement, etc.
Far too tragic to be funny and far too funny to be tragic, I Love You Phillip Morris is likely to be a difficult sell for distrib Roadside Attractions for the film's arthouse run. In all likelihood, the film will enjoy a much healthier life on home video where the curious can comfortably satisfy their curiousity and fast forward through the film's numerous parts that simply never gel.
I'm sorry, Phillip Morris, I don't love you.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic