Written and Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa
Starring Jim Carrey, Leslie Mann, Ewan McGregor,
“Being gay is really expensive,” is one of the first things we learn about Steven Jay Russell (Carrey), the protagonist in the movie billed as gay and funny, I Love You Phillip Morris. As Russell cons his way through the first 1/8th of the movie, we find him a con man who is depraved in just about every way. He was given up for adoption as the middle of three children, went religious and married with children route, then after a brush with death, drops the disguise and comes out of the closet. Next thing we see, he is in Florida, living with a guy from Dancing With The Stars, robbing everything in sight. Unwilling to go to prison, he tries to kill himself, and doesn’t succeed. It is presented as humorous, but falls a little short.
So, Russell goes to prison, finds it somewhat to his liking, and while there, finds, the “love” of his life, Phillip Morris (McGregor). They have real conversations, real intimacy and a short period together before they are forced apart. Having learned law in his time in the clink, he gets his boyfriend out of jail and they begin life anew. Well, sort of.
He gets lucky in court once as a “lawyer” and then fraudulently gets himself a position as CFO in a large company. This nets him some money, but he decides to skim off a little more. He sees less and less of Phillip Morris at this time, but once he is caught and returned to prison, realizes how much he misses him, and begins the con cycle once more.
The lengths that Russell goes to seem to good to be true until you realize that not only is Jim Carrey portraying a real person, but that they have trimmed down the actual number of cons he was able to pull on not only the state of Texas, but a number of other states and the FBI as well.
Carrey does an admirable job portraying a man who exists only superficially on a number of levels. His efforts show a man with an incredibly high IQ who could care less what his intelligence could benefit him in proper society. In his meeting Morris, one can tell that he is changed, but old habits die-hard. His comfort in almost every situation (even while being pursued) is expressed effortlessly.
McGregor is, effectively, nothing more than a sensitive boy toy here. His character requires not much more than to respond to Carrey and he does that as well as he should, I guess. The gay contingent of the movie, played up in the ad campaign and some reviews, is not really a point of emphasis once the movie gets rolling. It’s portrayed as love, not gay love. Leslie Mann does a delightful job as Russell’s ex-wife. She is religious, but not an automaton. Often times in movies like this one, every character who is not straight has to have something wrong with them. No such cliché here. She has misconceptions, sure, but she loves the man who is the father of her children, even though he turned out to be living a myriad of lies.
The direction, as well the writing of the film, is uneven. There are times that it plays like early Coen brothers, but other times the material just clanks to an awkward effect. The soundtrack, in particular, adds an effervescent charm that helps reveal the character. There is an unnecessary intensity to some of the sex scenes that does nothing but cause an awkwardness with the viewer. It makes one wonder if this is a movie about a brilliant con artist or Cinemax After Dark. If you get past this, the movie is not too bad. If you don’t, just read about Russell online.
(*** out of *****)