I Love You Phillip Morris Review
I Love You Phillip Morris has long been incarcerated in that nasty land of film limbo. After all, a romantic comedy about two homosexual inmates in prison isn't exactly going to impress the heartland of America. Delayed numerous times, and switching distributors after edits to the sometimes crass sex scenes, directors John Requea and Glenn Ficarra are finally able to release the film to the masses. What we have is one of the funniest and sweetest films of the year, regardless of content, as well as one of Jim Carrey's best performances of his career.
Partial thanks must be given to the real life inspiration for the film: Steven Russell. Abandoned by his birth mother and raised by a conservative Christian family, Russell was the protypical American man. A deputy police officer, a loving husband and father to his wife and daughter, he had everything just fine until a car accident almost kills him. Forcing a mid-life crisis, he comes out of the closet, leaves his wife (while retaining a friendly relationship), and moves to Florida. Unfortunately, after strings of insurance fraud, he begins a long series of prison time.
It's there that Russell meets the mop-topped blond southern boy, Phillip Morris. From the instant they meet, the initial sparks render the duo hopelessly in love, and for the rest of his life Russell cheats the system to escape prison, pulling off some of the most outlandish escape stunts in American history. Ranging from impersonating a judge, stealing markers to dye his prison grab green to pass as a doctor or even walking out of prison in woman's clothing, Russell went above and beyond traditional prison escapes. According to the film, Russell did all of these for the love of his life. When was the last time you saw a romantic comedy where the characters escaped prison for love?
Of course, this summary does little justice to the real-life story of Steven Russell and Phillip Morris. A zany and wild film, I Love You Phillip Morris isn't a mild comedy for the meek. Outrageous and graphic, Ficarra and Requa milk all of the real-life events of Russell's life to explode on screen to full humorous effect. Much of this can be placed upon Jim Carrey as Russell. Not tied down by a PG-13 rating, Carrey is able to let lose with impeccable comic timing and blisteringly hot wit. His version of Russell isn't too far off from the insane Carrey we've seen in Ace Ventura or Liar Liar: a compulsive, intense and selfish man. Carrey's Russell is so outlandish and over the top, he owns the movie with absolute control. Not only a fantastic comedic performance, it's one of Carrey's best all around, and the electric soul of I Love You Phillip Morris.
Ewan McGregor, on the other hand, is just fine as the sweet and soft-spoken Morris. He's an innocent man, a little too reliant upon Russell, but their relationship is the sweet core of the film. While Carrey can take the action to surreal heights, the basic element of the film is truly a love story. While many heterosexual couples struggle on screen to convey any sort of natural chemistry, McGregor and Carrey perform a realistic, even adorable relationship. Sure, the movie is pretty upfront about the sex and aggressive sustained kissing, but the physical aspect is only a secondary element of the film. Gay or straight, the sweetness of the love story carries the film regardless of the genders of the lovers. That's pretty damn progressive if you ask me, and by the end it doesn't matter if this is a gay romantic comedy. What matters is that it's a romantic comedy, and the feelings Russell and Morris share are pretty damn universal.
I Love You Phillip Morris is the comedic surprise of the fall. Anyone who would pass on the film is missing out on a fantastic romantic comedy, plain and simple. While the broad swath of physical humor from Carrey goes far to entertain, the bittersweet core is the real focal point of the film. At once hilarious, crude, and sweet, I Love You Phillip Morris may be the best romantic comedy of the year.