Sunday, August 2, 2015


Did you hear about this bold Jim Carrey comedy/drama?  Probably not.  Mainstream movie audiences didn't get to see Jim Carrey as an openly gay con man who falls in love behind bars because the movie never opened.  It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2009, but it was pretty much shelved.  A little over a year later when Carrey's leading man, Ewan McGregor, was on Good Morning America promoting another project, even anchor George Stephanopoulos asked if I Love You Phillip Morris would ever be released.  Poor Ewan really couldn't answer.  He didn't know.              
It was slated for a December 2010 release.  It really went to DVD.  The story begins and we see three words onscreen -- "this really happened."  Like Jack Black in Bernie, comic actor Jim Carrey showed his impressive dramatic skills playing a real-life character who committed a crime.  Available on DVD now, I think I Love You Phillip Morris deserves a second look.  Or, for many, a first look.  Jim Carrey is quite effective when he doesn't have to be the manic funny guy in mainstream Hollywood crowd-pleaser comedies like Ace Ventura, The Mask and Bruce Almighty.  Look at his fine, more serious work in The Truman Show (1996) and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). He does strong, solid work here.  This independent feature may have made Hollywood nervous.  Not because Carrey was a gay character.  But because he was a tough, tricky, masculine, aggressive gay character in a comedy/drama with a blunt, straight-forward sexuality.  In Brokeback Mountain, a married and closeted ranch hand is afraid of anyone finding out that he's gay and in love with another man.  In I Love You Phillip Morris, a married former cop in Virginia Beach has an epiphany and decides to be his true self.  He declares "I'm gonna be a fag!"  Steve Russell (Jim Carrey) splits from his marriage and finds a boyfriend.  He also comes to another realization that "...being gay is expensive."
As a married policeman, Steve played organ for the church choir on Sundays.  He married a very Christian woman and they had very conservative Christian sex.  How conservative?  She kept her nightgown on and he was in his pajamas while they made love.  Steve became a cop basically to find his real mother.  She gave him up in infancy but kept her two other children.  Steve has abandonment issues.  Someone who should have loved him didn't take care of him.  And he has sex issues.  He quits the force after some disappointments and the family moves to Texas.  Things change.  Steve changes.  He relocates.  He showers his first boyfriend, Jimmy, with fabulous gifts.
Jimmy is played by Rodrigo Santoro.  He went on to major attention as the nemesis in the fantasy/action movie 300.  Remember the adorned bad guy?  That's Santoro.
Steve becomes a con man when he runs out of cash to keep Jimmy looking good.  This ultimately lands Steve in prison.  That's where he meets blond, blue-eyed, shy Phillip Morris played Ewan McGregor.  Like Steve, he also knows how to survive behind bars.  Their first meeting is in the prison library.  The sweet, kooky scene plays like a good first date in a romantic comedy.  One called You've Got Jail.  There's instant chemistry between the two.  Phillip is a romantic, charmed by the charismatic con man.

Not that Oscars are everything.  There's a long list of versatile actors who gave several golden performances in films yet were never nominated for an Oscar.  This list goes back to the Classic Days of Hollywood with actors like Joel McCrea, Edward G. Robinson and Ida Lupino then on to Mia Farrow, Donald Sutherland and Richard Gere and, nowadays, actors like McGregor.  He's this generation's Obi-Wan Kenobi in the newer Star Wars adventures.  Look at McGregor's performance here after you've seen his excellent work in Trainspotting, Young Adam with Tilda Swinton, the musical Moulin Rouge! and Big Fish.  He shows more versatility here.  I know the Academy has a crush on Bradley Cooper but I wish it would toss a little love Ewan McGregor's way.  He's a completely different character in this comedy/drama.  Notice the way Phillip moves and reacts and sounds.  He's got a different look in his eyes.  McGregor slams across another fine performance as lovestruck crook, Phillip Morris.  Both actors truly connect.  Carrey makes you laugh as the con man, however he also commits to the darker edges of the character and those painful things in the heart that make him recognizably human.  Glenn Ficarra and John Requa directed and co-wrote I Love You Phillip Morris.
Two male convicts embracing as they watch an old Irene Dunne classic on TV.  And the scene wasn't played for laughs.  This is definitely a different Jim Carrey movie.  If only the movie had been released like the convict was.  Here's a trailer.
About the sex in I Love You Phillip Morris.  When Steven has sex with men, it's not conservative like his lovemaking with his wife as a married man.  With men, he's uninhibited, free and satisfied.  Keep in mind that this film was completed and first shown when America was near the end of the George W. Bush administration.  Texas plays a major part in this story.  Also, we'd heard a lot about Ted Haggard, a married evangelical pastor who conned folks into thinking he was totally heterosexual.  He wasn't.  He'd been intimate with crystal meth and male prostitutes.

See how far Steve Russell will go to take care of the man he loves.  Being behind bars makes him a devoted partner.  When the movie opens, he's in a hospital bed and remarks in a voiceover that love is a funny thing.  Steve says, "Love is the reason I'm lying here dying."

Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor deserved a lot more attention than they got for their work in I Love You Phillip Morris.

1 comment:

  1. I saw this film on the big screen at Brooklyn's BAM Cinematheque; must have been around 2010 or '11. I don't usually gravitate towards Jim Carrey's films, but I found this enjoyable. Wouldn't mind seeing it again.


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