I Love You Phillip Morris (2009)

I’m not sure where to start with this film other than to say it is good. Surprisingly good depending on your expectations going into it.
This movie was supposed to come out in theaters in the Spring of 2009. It is now, of course, over a year later and thanks to legal battles between the distributors it has been delayed several times (rumored at least once because of market objections to its rather uncompromising homosexual themes). Despite being out on home video already in places like France (where I got the DVD from), it is currently set for release in the U.S. sometime in October 2010.
The film is an adaptation of a book by the same name, which has nothing to do with the cigarette company, but rather a notorious, real-life con-man named Steven Russell (Jim Carrey) who meets the love of his life in prison by the name of Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor). Carrey is amazing here as he always is when not forced to ham up the screen with stupidness. McGregor is the man of affection, played with a soft-spoken naivete that has been seen from him before, but is no less effective in his supporting role.

Part of the trouble with this film playing to general audiences, aside from those who may take offense at its unapologetic homosexuality, is its tone. It is unapologetic in its blend of comedy and drama. The film plays like a whimsical fantasy tale, but has its moments of sadness and darkness. Those expecting a comedy get too much emotion and those expecting a drama get too much, well, queerness (in every sense of the word). I don’t feel I’m really that qualified to write on so-called ‘queer cinema’, but this film does seem to act as some sort of metaphor for countering societal conventions about identity. Russell’s continual changing of identities required of him to succeed in his confidence games seems to develop out of his own changing identity from “normal” husband/family man to newly founded “gayness”. There’s a lot of subtext here, even among the blatant jokes and the occasional, almost-reductive homosexual/criminal dichotomy found in a lot of Classical Hollywood films. Yet unlike those kind of stereotypical depictions, there is a loving, almost manic perspective toward the out-lawishness of these characters. The film “embraces its artificiality”, as another writer puts it; its queerness is celebrated in a way that, if the movie works, has you rooting for the criminals to get away with it all.

Without spoiling anything, I’ll just say that, even if you anticipate the third act for what it is, it is still some extremely ballsy filmmaking. This would never do well as a mainstream release and many seeing Carrey as its star without looking into the subject matter would surely be disappointed, if not ignorantly repulsed.
I say good for him and the movie. It really is a journey worth taking.


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