I Love You Phillip Morris: The Craziest “Based On A True Story” Film Ever
When I see that a film is based on a true story, I usually take it with a grain of salt. After seeing I Love You Phillip Morris, the new film by the writers of Bad Santa, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, I immediately went to do further research, because surely this story must be wildly exaggerated. It’s amazing to think, but this film actually doesn’t exaggerate the truth at all, and that’s what makes it seem all the wilder. If any story in modern history deserved cinematic treatment, this did. It’s not a very marketable film, a comedy dealing heavily with homosexuality and criminal behavior, but thank the Lord it was made. The first time directors and big name stars do a good job bringing it to life, but really, this isn’t a must-see for its cinematic achievement. It’s simply an amazing story, one that needs to be seen to believed.
Steven Russell (Jim Carrey) is a happy man at film’s beginning. He has a wife (Leslie Mann), a family, a good job as a policeman, and everything a man could want. He also explains to us that he’s gay, revealed to us in a suddenly graphic sex scene that will shock most Jim Carrey fans, even as it made me laugh uncontrollably. After a violent car crash, he awakens and realizes he needs to live his life the way he really is. He moves to South Beach, starts dating a hot guy (Rodrigo Santoro), and makes a living as a con man. When he’s eventually arrested and sent to jail, he meets Phillip Morris (Ewan MacGregor), a gentle man imprisoned for keeping a rental car too long. It’s love at first sight, and Russell seduces Morris, first through handwritten notes and then he gets himself transferred into Morris’ cell. They both get parole and are released to live their life happily ever after.
Except Russell decides that being an ordinary man isn’t what Morris deserves. He begins conning again, and after getting millions of dollars through fraud, he is arrested again, and Morris insists on never seeing him again. In order to be re-united with him, he escaped from prison again and again, always immediately heading towards Morris, causing his arrest. He never failed to escape again, and some of these escapes are embarrassing to the authority figures who looked like fools as a result. In fact, his cons all should have been discovered, but Russell was always perfectly charming and able to quickly read the way people work in order to find an angle to exploit. It’s a tale of the search for acceptance in this world, self-discovery, and finding peace in the love another person provides.
Jim Carrey’s best films, such as The Truman Show, Man on the Moon, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, allow him to balance his flair for slapstick with his ability to capture an honest moment. This film immediately ranks up with the aforementioned– it’s a brave, committed performance that ably carries the film. It’s jarring at first to see a celebrity of his stature engaging in sexual acts with other men, but it fits the circumstance; at first, Russell only wants sex with men to satisfy lustful urges, yet as he grows to feel more, the scenes become tender, and Carrey’s celebrity status fades away. Several scenes– a dance with Morris, a tearful goodbye, and the final scene of the film– rank among the best individual scenes of Carrey’s career without question. MacGregor is soft and kind as Morris, but it’s less of a surprise because we’re used to seeing MacGregor do well in brave artsy roles like this. Carrey took me aback with his stronger scenes.
This film has struggled with distribution in America, leading many to think it has to do with the quality of the film. Actually, it has more to do with the quality of Americans– it’s obvious that the in-your-face homosexuality and graphic male-on-male sex is what has kept this terrific story out of the cineplexes. And what a shame: this is the type of story of perseverance that everyone should get the opportunity to see. It’s not a movie about being gay, it’s a movie about being in love (unlike the buzzed-about gay relationship film The Kids Are All Right, this is a movie about three-dimensional characters in love). It would be irresponsible to ignore the gay elements of the film, because Russell is a man of strong physical urges and he likes to live flamboyantly– how can you ignore it? This movie is simply too outstanding to change a single part or to try to soften any of the R-rated aspects. Kudos to Ficarra and Requa for getting this film made and into theaters: the fact that it’s making it to theaters is a tribute to how strong the work is. Finally, I urge you– do NOT read about the movie. The manner in which Russell executes his cons and twists will blow you away if you see them for the first time on the screen; it’s half the fun. It’s the most pleasantly surprising long-delayed film I’ve ever seen… and that’s a true story.