Lionsgate // 2009 // 98 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // March 31st, 2011
This really happened.
It really did.
Being gay is really expensive.
Steven Russell (Jim Carrey, The Number 23) is living a reasonably mainstream life. He's a cop, he has a pretty wife, Debbie (Leslie Mann, Knocked Up), and a daughter he adores.
But Steven has a secret: he's gay. At first, he merely has trysts on the side, but after a near-fatal accident, decides to start living his real life.
So Steven moves to Florida, finds himself a handsome boyfriend (Rodrigo Santoro, 300), and starts living the dream. Unfortunately, as Steven soon finds out, the dream -- at least, his idea of the dream -- is expensive. So Steven becomes a con man, first faking small accidents for insurance settlements, and later moving on to things such as credit card fraud.
The law comes a-calling, and Steven finds himself in prison, where his con-artist skills help him adjust pretty well.
Then he meets Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor, Trainspotting), a sweet, sensitive, vulnerable man doing time on a theft of service charge. Steven falls hard for Phillip, and his attentiveness and charm win the inmate over. Soon, Steven and Phillip are blissfully sharing a cell, with all the amenities Steven can rustle up for them.
When Steven gets released, he wants Phillip out, too, so it's back to the con games -- Steven pretends he's a lawyer, and talking to the right people, gets Phillip sprung. He then gladhands his way into a high-paying corporate job, and compensates his having to deal with "the most boring people in the world" by overcompensating himself.
The gentle, unassuming Phillip knows little about Steven, except that he's protective, loving, and a good provider. What he doesn't realize is that Steven's idea of "good providing" means continuing to scam -- people, corporations, even the government -- to make sure he and Phillip have the best life other people's money can buy.
Charming, inventive, and very, very funny, I Love You, Phillip Morris is a tremendously entertaining caper with a sometimes sly, sometimes raunchy, always dead-on sense of humor. Based on the real-life exploits of Steven Jay Russell -- and hewing pretty closely to the actual narrative, from all accounts -- the film moves smoothly from one clever situation to the next.
Despite its decidedly contemporary subject matter, there's a classic '60s feel about it, almost a play on the cheery, slightly smarmy, Technicolor rom-and-sexcoms of that era -- from an opening scene that gives way to an extended flashback, leading back to the first scene three-quarters of the way through; to its glossy, colorful look and tropical loungie-sounding score; to its over-the-top situations and frequent sex jokes. It's a motif that helps the film succeed as a comedy, an adventure, and a love story; and gives the edge a refreshingly sweet aftertaste.
As Steven, Jim Carrey has his best role since Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Playing a con man who, as Steven himself laments, doesn't really know who he actually is, Carrey gets to role-play a variety of characters. He's "good husband" Steven, church-going community guy with wife and child; he's Steven the abandoned child, tracking down his birth mother, with disastrous results; he's Steven the flamboyant-spending gay guy who knows everyone worth knowing; he's the smartest guy on the cell block, a fake lawyer, a faux business executive, a man broken by illness -- and Carrey plays all these Stevens without resorting to the broad strokes and mugging that long ago became his trademark.
Mostly though, he's a man who desperately wants to be in love and to be loved back -- but extravagantly, heroically, the old-movie type of love filled with romantic idylls and high-end living. Unfortunately, Steven's not to the manor born, but he's something of a criminal genius, and outrageous scam after outrageous scam allow Steven to build -- at least temporarily -- the life he wants.
Wickedly funny as it is, above all else, I Love You, Phillip Morris is a love story, and Carrey and McGregor have a gentle, natural chemistry that most rom-com couples can only dream of. While Carrey has the showier role, McGregor -- affecting a southern drawl and blond locks -- more than holds his own as the sweet, naïve Phillip, who fears -- rightly -- than Steven's opulent lifestyle is just too good to be true.
The film has a lot of fun tweaking stereotypes, particularly gay stereotypes, but it's done with such good-natured flair that it never comes across as condescending or offensive. Particularly funny are the scenes in which Steven first moves to Florida -- where he seems intent on emulating a gay lifestyle magazine from the early '90s -- and his prison romance with Phillip, complete with gestures of affection like having another con beaten up for acting offensively and a Johnny Mathis-scored couples montage.
This film looks absolutely terrific on Blu-ray. I Love You, Phillip Morris is a bright, colorful film, and the transfer is beautifully rendered. The picture is sharp with no noticeable defects, colors are vivid, detail is excellent, and there's an appreciable amount of depth. The DTS 5.1 audio track offers a fine representation of dialogue, music, and effects.
Supplement-wise, we get a commentary with the directors, producers, the DP, and a gaffer; all of whom have entertaining tales of the making of the film. There's also a featurette, "The Making of I Love You, Phillip Morris," in which directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa -- who wrote Bad Santa -- and the main players weigh in on the film.
There are also deleted scenes, and these are a bit more interesting than most because they're not just extraneous bits swept off the cutting room floor and repackaged as a supplement. We can see here how some scenes were shifted about, and how sequences that ended up in the film were originally intended to be used elsewhere. We also get a variety of trailers, some of which are definitely not suitable for "general audiences."
In the supplemental material, it's stated more than once that this is "not a gay movie."
While I hate to disagree with the people who actually made the film, I Love You, Phillip Morris is a gay movie. It's not Brokeback Mountain somber gay or The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert campy gay, but it's a movie about a man who devises wild schemes to keep his male partner happy, and it features lots of guy-on-guy oral sex jokes.
The film was completed in 2009, but had distribution problems; I've read accounts where these problems were attributed to bad business decisions, and others that suggested that the content held up distribution.
How much of this was bad business and how much content, I can't say. I can see where I Love You, Phillip Morris might be a hard sell, and that's a shame.
But it's also kind of a shame when the people involved in the making of the film feel they have to explain it off by insisting, "It's not a gay movie." Maybe they're right and I'm wrong, but even if it is a "gay movie," what's wrong with that?
While I respect the idea of not pigeonholing the movie, it just seems strange that at this point in the history of civilization, people still feel compelled to make these self-conscious codas, particularly for a film as charming and funny as this, and particularly in the supplements of the disc -- I think it's safe to assume that people who are watching the featurette or listening to the commentary have already seen the film, made their own determinations about Jim Carrey making out with Ewan McGregor, and really don't need a warning or revisionist take.
I Love You, Phillip Morris is a tremendously funny and inventive comedy; it's also a quirky and moving look at love and the crazy things we do to find it and keep it. Highly recommended.
Review content copyright © 2011 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes
* Official Site
* Cinema Verdict Review
* Steven Russell Interview on NPR
* Steven Jay Russell