Reviewer: James van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ****
"Even though, sometimes, I don't know who you are, I still love you."
These words, uttered by a sweet-like-you've-never-seen-him Ewan McGregor toward the conclusion of I Love You Phillip Morris, are so fitting, both for that moment and for the two characters who make up the lion's share of the movie -- and, in fact, for so many love relationships: Do we ever really know the one we profess to love? -- that they effectively sound the theme for this unusual, surprising film. So full of quirky truth is it that, on one level, the fact that its protagonists are gay is almost beside the point. This is the film love story of the year (last year's prize went to Wendy and Lucy, demonstrating, I think, that where movies are concerned, it's the love that counts rather than the type of lovers).
The recipient of this particular love is Steven Russell, a real life con artist played by Jim Carrey -- as good as the actor has ever been. The fact that he didn't even get a nomination from our besotted Academy speaks volumes (as though any more were needed). He is riveting in scene after scene, his inclination to rubber-face tamped down without losing a bit of his trademark energy. Carrey is still quite funny but never less than absolutely real, and surprisingly moving without pushing a thing.
He is complimented very well by McGregor, who shows a softness and sweetness here that trumps much else that he, too, has done up till now. He has a lovely shyness and reticence here. In neither man's performance do you detect a trace of condescension.
Phillip Morris is the first film to be directed by Bad Santa co-writers John Requa and Glenn Ficarra, and while they will win no awards for inventive, cutting-edge movie-making, their film works because they achieve the right tone to bring off their extremely odd story, said to be based on real people. Given the bizarre goings-on and the even odder Carrey character, this is no small feat.
From the outset, the dry, in-your-face narration sets this tone perfectly, and it rarely wavers. A moment or two veer closer to over-the-top than we might like, but the film always quickly recovers. Its treatment of the sexual component of prison life, for example, is funny and raw -- reality raised just a notch to create comedy, satire and truth.
The duo's use of a joke -- making its rounds through a company, while bringing out the latent racism and intolerance -- as the thing that helps make Carrey's character snap is brilliant in its economy and sleazy eloquence.
The use of clothes, cars and music (yes, even Johnny Mathis singing "Chances Are"!), is pleasantly un-pushy, too. The supporting cast is full of good actors. Leslie Mann as Carrey's wife (yes, he's married: The Kinsey Scale is fully evident here), Rodrigo Santoro as his pre-McGregor beau, Antoni Corone as his gullible boss and Annie Golden as a landlady/friend are several among many doing fine work.
This is a whopper of a good story, a funny, odd, surprisingly thoughtful -- even moving -- film. As easy to sit through as any decently-made mainstream comedy, at its conclusion, it also provides a rather special, quietly subversive kick in the head. Watching it a second time on DVD proved every bit as entertaining, and the bonus features are a surprise, too: not just the filmmaker commentary but especially the 17 minutes (!) of surprisingly worthy deleted scenes, which further exemplify how good Carrey was here.
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