Tuesday, 8 March 2011

I Love You Phillip Morris (2009)

To someone of my generation, the title of this film suggests a testimonial or paean to a brand of ciggies, rather than a purportedly true story of gay love. Apparently the nearly unbelievable tale is based on reality, as told in the non-fiction book by Steven Vicker. Adapted for the screen by "Bad Santa" scribes Glenn Ficarra and John Requa and co-directed by them with a wonderfully light touch in their debut outing, the movie is far more entertaining than I would have imagined. Of this week's Sky Premiere debuts, I was expecting Martin Scorsese's "Shutter Island" to be the pick of the bunch, but I found it preposterously told, muddled, and unsatisfying; the above unheralded movie (with its subject matter limiting its wide release) was far more fun.

It is the story of one Steven Russell, immaculately played by Jim Carrey, who throws in his straight life as a cop, husband, and father to wallow in the hedonistic lifestyle that he believes his gay sensibilities warrant. As he soon discovers, a flamboyant way of life needs lots of ready cash, so he indulges in various cons and scams to finance living high on the hog. Think of "Catch Me if You Can" camped up. Of course he lands in pokey where -- across the room -- he catches sight of the would-be love of his life Phillip Morris, in the bleached blonde shape of Ewan McGregor. Soon he is pulling strings to get transferred into McGregor' cell and on his release to spring his lover through various paralegal shennanigans. Once they are both at liberty, Steven carries on with more outlandish postures and unashamed fiddles to provide a luxurious life for him and his beloved Phillip. When the law is ready to close in once again, Phillip is unforgiving and takes off in his shiny red sportscar (one of a matching pair Steven has provided). It is only through the most unbelievable set of actions that Carrey's conman manages to escape from jail and win back Phillip's affections. To say any more would be to spoil the surprises of the film's denouement -- but outrageous is the best and only description. It's harder than hell to credit that this is all based on truth.

I am hardly a great Carrey fan despite liking some of his early work; his later films are a little frenetic for my taste, although he can, when he tries, underplay to good effect. In this movie, he may be enacting a larger than life character, but his playing is believably grounded. As for McGregor, as I wrote elsewhere recently, he has been coasting through most of his latter-day roles without making much of a positive impression. In this film, however, he is remarkably good and one can believe in his very feminine and very needy character. Apparently some movie-goers were put off by the thought of two straight actors playing gay oddballs -- and the film does not stint on their sexual attraction and affection -- but this just proves that both Carrey and McGregor are better actors than I have previously believed. In short, I found it a far more enjoyable romp than watching Leonardo DiCaprio going crazy (sorry, Marty!).
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