A Netflix Finds Review
It’s safe to say that by the 2000s Jim Carrey had lost a lot of what made him so excellent in the 90s. Gone were his iconic characters as the actor attempted to breach the drama reef and took on serious roles that were hit or miss. Starting in 2000 with Me, Myself, and Irene he launched into a series of forgettable films before landing his greatest role with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - to date, one of the greatest films of the 21st century.
Since Spotless it’s been mostly downhill as he attempts to retread the same formula that made him such a success. Empty outings like Fun With Dick and Jane, Yes Man (a rehash of Liar, Liar), and the worst film possibly ever made The Number 23 did little to revamp his career.
Which is why I Love You Phillip Morris is such a refreshing film. Whereas Carrey’s dramatic roles like Spotless Mind and The Majestic attempted to showcase his depth, they left out a lot of what makes Carrey so damn likable and that’s his ability to character act. Adam Sandler tries very little to understand the method of character acting. You can’t just change your voice to sound like a mentally challenged kid or you twin sister and call it acting. Babies do that all the time.
With Phillip Morris Carey is rewarded with a role that blends his character acting, his depth, and of course his ability to make people laugh. In the mid-2000’s there was an onslaught of gay comedies/dramas, as the subject became more and more culturally acceptable. Some filmmakers didn’t quite understand how to make gay comedies funny, without being insulting. Such was the case with I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, another Adam Sandler turd that instead of embracing homosexuality and writing the characters more endearing, it went the path of homophobia until the end when everyone realizes “OMG, GAYZ R COOL.” Fail.
Based on the true life story of Steven Russell, a con man from the 80s and 90s, Morris takes the audience on a wild ride through one man’s love for another. Carrey is in top form here, playing Russell with straight conviction and sincerity. Sure, he’s funny, but it’s not because of him being gay, it’s because what he’s doing is so ludicrous at times it doesn’t even seem possible. His object of affection this entire film is Ewan McGregor’s Phillip Morris, who also does a great job conveying the character’s nimbleness.
After a car accident breaks something loose in his head, Russell abandons the life he had before. His wife subtly played by Leslie Mann doesn’t understand his new lifestyle and would prefer it if he’d just accept Jesus again and not be gay. He also abandons his morals. Instead of upholding the law like his former job as a police officer, Russell appears to do anything he can to break the system and point out glaring mistakes in policy for lots of companies. Throughout the film he goes in and out of prison frequently, and after awhile you forget what reason he’s in prison for - but most of the time it’s for being such a damn good con man.
In the spirit of Catch Me if You Can Russell cons his way to the top of a financial office, amassing a great salary, and begins embezzling like crazy, despite no one ever questioning if he had the actual smarts to do his job. Some people can just talk really well. Throughout his adventures though, one thing remains clear and that’s his undying love for Phillip Morris. No matter where the road takes him, he’s destined to be with this man, whatever the consequences.
It’s an extreme look at love, no doubt. But one that I think is often missed in romantic films these days. Russell’s motivation in life is no longer about himself, it’s about Phillip. Every step he takes, every dollar he steals, is all building up to the finale, which could be considered as a bit much, but it succeeds in the sense of completion. This is where Carrey pulls out all of the stops and reminds us all that not only is he funny, but he’s also a gifted actor. Towards the end of the film Russell contracts AIDS and spirals into this sickness so harshly that one would think Carrey himself had. Carrey’s acting rarely gets pushed to this time of extreme. He can play the lonely heart, the slapstick, but not the dying, suffering, soul that you see towards the end of Phillip Morris.
To parallel this movie, there’s the real life Steven Russell who is still imprisoned as of today in a 23-hour lockdown, where he receives only one hour of exercise and showering. Why? Because he’s broken out of prison countless times, and broken others out of prison countless times, and has the ability to probably do it again, if he had enough time. The sense of urgency from Carry’s performance makes it all the more powerful given the end result. He knows that he’s short on time, so every minute of every day needs to be spent with the love of his life. There are couples I see today who can’t even stand to have dinner with each other, let alone spend every second together. If anything Phillip Morris is about true love, whether it’s gay or straight, it holds so much more meaning than some give it credit for today.
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content including strong dialogue, and language.
Runtime: 102 mins.
Director: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Writer: John Requa, Glenn Ficarra
Cast: Jim Carrey; Ewan McGregor; Leslie Mann; Rodrigo Santoro; David Jansen
Genre: Comedy | Romance
Tagline: The Conman who wouldn't go straight.
Memorable Movie Quote: "I love you, Phillip Morris! I love you!"
Distributor: LD Entertainment
Official Site: www.phillipmorrismovie.net
Theatrical Release Date: December 3, 2010
Link to Netflix: I Love You Phillip Morris (2010)
Synopsis: Steven Russell is happily married to Debbie, and a member of the local police force when a car accident provokes a dramatic reassessment of his life. Steven becomes open about his homosexuality and decides to live life to the fullest - even if it means breaking the law. Steven's new, extravagant lifestyle involves cons and fraud and, eventually, a stay in the State Penitentiary where he meets sensitive, soft-spoken Phillip Morris. His devotion to freeing Phillip from jail and building the perfect life together prompts Steven to attempt and often succeed at one impossible con after another.