By Marty Mulrooney
Jim Carrey is, without question, an acquired taste. I still laugh at some of his older all-out comedy films (my inner child I guess), but truthfully, I preferred him in slightly more serious fare such as The Truman Show or Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind than I ever did watching him goof off. The trailer for I Love You Phillip Morris left me slightly confused as to which category this latest Carrey flick this would fall under. Having just got back from the cinema, I am surprised to say that the answer is neither.
Based on a true story, I Love You Phillip Morris follows the life of Steven Jay Russell, a seemingly happily married family man who we soon discover is in fact gay. After a near-fatal car accident, Steven decides to stop living a lie and come out of the closet. However, living the luxurious gay lifestyle he so badly desires doesn’t come cheap, effectively turning him into a con-man of necessity overnight. This then leads to some hefty prison time.
Sounds pretty serious so far doesn’t it? Actually, it isn’t. If you have missed Carrey’s insane antics as of late, you will be glad to note that many of his older comedic traits are back in full force here. One scene in particular near the beginning of the film, with Carrey waiting for an elevator as the cops are looking for him, totally cracked me up. Forget the funny vocals and madcap facial expressions (although they help), Carrey is a master of physical comedy, using every atom of his being to express exactly how his character feels in any given situation, multiplied by ten. Later, whilst impersonating all manner of job roles, you truly believe that the character could be a successful conman… it would take someone this crazy to pull it off.
Yet sadly, the comedy highlights are somewhat marred by the film’s consistent personality disorder: it doesn’t really know what it wants to be. Throwing aside the comedy and the true story aspects, what we are left with amounts to a homosexual love story. Ewan McGregor as Phillip Morris in many ways feels wasted, constantly playing second fiddle to Carrey. By the end of the film, their relationship does hold water, but only after slow beginnings. The actors are very convincing as gay men, sharing several on screen kisses (amongst other things) yet the romance never really blossoms or feels concrete. A lot of the film’s comedy is based around homosexuality, although I imagine it will be funnier for straight men and women than homosexual viewers, who could actually be quite offended by some of the jokes if they were the sensitive type.
The portrayal of prison life shown here seems rather tame, with the various crimes that place Steven there in the first place paling in comparison to similar fare such as 2002’s Catch Me If You Can (which is also based on the true life story of a conman). I Love You Phillip Morris may be based on fact, but the heavy reliance on comedic elements and the slightly glossed over gay relationship between the two leads actually damages the believability for the majority of the film, making it ooze fiction.
In the end, what saves I Love You Phillip Morris from becoming decidedly average is a last minute plot twist that swerves away from a pathetically pat ending towards something much more admirable and fitting. It doesn’t fix everything, but it sure helps. I wish the more emotional moments of the love story had resonated with me, but they didn’t. This isn’t because I can’t relate to gay relationships either. I just didn’t feel that the relationship felt very authentic in the first place, causing the times when the filmmakers wanted me to shed a tear fall rather flat. There is a fascinating story being told here somewhere, but unfortunately the telling has been fumbled: in truth, it may have worked better as a straight drama (no pun intended). What we get here instead is fun, just don’t expect to be blown away.
7 OUT OF 10