I Love you Phillip Morris (No seriously, I do)

by - Monday, August 08, 2011

from www.impawards.com
So, we, like a lot of people, are trying to rush through our Netflix queue before we give up the DVD's in September (Nick gave it up after we had Apocalypse Now sitting in our living room for like 3 straight months, but for serious, when does anyone feel in the mood to watch that movie?) so we put some things we actually really wanted to see up front, rather than trying to continue our cinematic educations.

First up was I Love You, Phillip Morris, which came out last year but we never made it to because of its difficulty being released in the US, much less on a wider scale (I imagine this has to do with one gay sex scene, which I guess was graphic-ish? People get squeemish around Freddy Mercury mustaches). To be honest, I was inclined to like this movie before I saw it; Jim Carrey is in my favorite movie ever, and for whatever reason, he just doesn't bug me like most people. I like him and am rooting for him to do as many things as possible without CGI penguins or fart jokes, because I especially like him in those things.

Carrey's performance in this movie is very good, and he and the film mutually enforce each other in a way that is hard to explain. The tone of the film is nonchalantly ridiculous, treating the based on true events but also truly tasteless; it is based on the con artist Steven Jay Russell, who is stuck in jail for all of time for a series of cons that broke him out of jail more than once. Basically, he would have gotten away with it, if he hadn't been in love with his former bunk mate, played in the film by Ewan Macgregor (who I have never forgiven for Moulin Rouge and the Star Wars prequels, but gives a satirically sweet performance here). Don't look up anything about this guy before you see the movie, or you will miss the harshest, most unapologetic film twist ever.

A lot of the press on the movie focused on the relationship between the two men, but the film itself treats the main character's sexuality as both central and a non-issue (I think the voice over says "Also, I am super gay" and the plot keeps moving). It enjoys the play with stereotypes, without ever coming off as disrespectful, partially because the characters are so well-developed and just weirdly portrayed; I guess you could feel they are being made into a joke, but the more serious the character, the more they seem to maintain their dignity.  We actually see Russell's relationship with three different characters: his first wife (super dependable Leslie Mann), his first love (played by that really hot guy from Love Actually), and Phillip Morris. These relationships are the bookmarks to his antics, which only escalate as the film continues, but all three balance between very sincere moments and a sort of tongue and cheek dryness, where you aren't entirely sure whether they are playing for laughs. No one captures this better than Carrey, who almost plays off his star image, using some of his regular physical schtick against a soft Southern accent which speaks frankly to why he steals, cheats, lies, and loves.The dialogue between he and Morriss is blunt in the way real life actually works, and maybe its that honesty that many critics read as the beating heart of the film, but the actors pour this affect on, where you aren't sure what's real. I kept expecting Phillip Morris to actually be a bigger con than Russell, but he's not. His sweet naivete is only as much of a joke as the audience is willing to let it be, and by the end you are really rooting for these two to get together, like you would in any romantic comedy.

The movie is really funny and it moves through a lot of territory quickly. The only complaint I could humor is that the tone is so weird that it could seem uneven and difficult to read, but I think that relates to the odd humor. This is one of those movies you would laugh even more the second time, because the film is really about accessing another person, understanding why they do what they do (and even more difficult, why you do what you do). The first time, you are just never sure when its a joke you are in on, and when it is the truthful. I feel like the second time through, you realize it's all the truth, and almost all a joke. You also realize its playing with you, but you can just enjoy it. And I think you would enjoy it a lot, so go see this movie!

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