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I Love You Phillip Morris

USA 2010
Directed by
Glenn Ficarra / John Requa
98 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

I Love You Phillip Morris

Synopsis: Steven Russell (Jim Carrey) tells his story in flashback: how he went from being a perfect husband and father to meeting Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor), the love of his life.

Jim Carrey movies typically have an exaggerated quality that derive in some measure from the actor-comedian's hyper performance style. So, aside from the commercial value of his name, he is an odd choice for a film that begins by telling us that it's based on a true story. In fact I thought this was simply a ruse until quite late in story when it finally dawned on me that the events depicted, at least more or less, did happen. This realization does endow I Love You Phillip Morris with a certain frisson of fascination but it still leaves the question of why Carrey, and as a corollary, why did Carrey want to do it? With respect to the first question, Carrey, as they say, puts bums on seats but as to the second, given that his character likes to fuck bums this is hardly going to sit well with his fan base. Perhaps Carrey was trying, as Robin Williams did with One Hour Photo (2002), to get away from typecasting, but despite all the hoopla Stateside about his performance being Oscar nomination worthy, he is pretty much the same as ever, and as the movie, so to speak, stiffed in the USA, it was not a decision that paid off for anyone. At least in hindsight (again, so to speak), it hardly comes as a surprise.

I Love You Phillip Morris is indeed based on a true story and a rather sad one at that. So you’ve got to ask why debut co-writers and co-directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa thought it appropriate to play it as a comedy. The result is a kind of Liar, Liar (1997) meets Auto Focus (2002), a blend of high-end production values and off-beat subject matter that starts out as a mild-mannered white-picket fence satire, suddenly shifts into risqué, almost gross-out, comedy, before gradually becoming more, if not exactly downbeat, then freighted with a somewhat disturbed and desperate undertone.

Ben Stiller handled this kind of inverted approach with Carrey much more successfully in The Cable Guy (1996), a stalker comedy which is perhaps the model Ficarra and Requa had in mind (although if so they might have noted that that film also tanked). One of the differences here is that both the leads are pretending to be gay. Pretending is an actor’s job but the idea is that you believe the illusion. Yet Carrey does not at any time appear to be anything other than straight. On the other hand Ewan McGregor seems to be channelling Henry Gibson, all fluttering glances and soft Southern drawl. It’s quite an amusing and effective  performance but other than being a little lost lamb he doesn’t have much to do except, presumably, be a bottom to Carrey’s top guy (something which, mercifully, we are spared the sight of). Somehow I don’t think a lot of people are going to find that particularly engaging. With such an intriguing story, written as a drama and with a different choice than Carrey in the lead this could have been much more than what it is  - another forgettable Jim Carrey movie..




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