Movie Review: I Love You Phillip Morris (2010)

Ewan McGregor and Jim Carrey in I Love You Phillip Morris

Photo: Roadside Attractions

I Love You Phillip Morris is half of a good movie told twice, which is disappointing because had the film film found a sense of where it wanted to go it could have been just as fascinating as it is partially entertaining. Jim Carrey gives an excellent performance in the lead role as Steve Russell, a con man who finds his one true love in jail, and Ewan McGregor is equally up to the task as the man of Steve’s dreams, the titular Phillip Morris.

The film is based on the book of the same name written by Steve McVicker telling the true crime story of Steven Jay Russell who was not only a con man, but managed to escape from the Texas prison system four times in five years and managed to find love in the process. Of course, there is a bit more to the story, but not much more is seen on screen. The unbelievable nature of Steven’s lifestyle doesn’t wholly reside in his prison escapes, but in the unpredictability of just who he is. He’s not particularly skilled in any one field, but this hopeless romantic with what may be described as a criminal case of ADD is one interesting character and a role tailor-made for the likes of Carrey.

Unfortunately, the film’s script isn’t nearly as inventive as the man at the center of the story. Written and directed by John Requa and Glenn Ficarra (the same duo that penned Terry Zwigoff’s Bad Santa), I Love You Phillip Morris opens with Steven pulling off a series of stunts that land him in the slammer. After his time inside we watch as history repeats itself, and while the situation has changed it’s like hearing the same joke being told with different names.

The love story gets pushed around too much as Requa and Ficarra seemed to get too involved with Steven’s antics. Perhaps they weren’t as interested in the love story, though the title tells us different. If they were going for a caper story with a side of love they succeeded, but the fact this film gets tiring in its second half at only 98 minutes long is unfortunate. I wish there had been a little more focus placed on the film’s characters rather than so much attention to the situation.

However, there is a lot of good to befound. As I already said, Carrey and McGregor are excellent in this. The off-the-cuff behavior of Steven is perfect for Carrey who’s also allowed to show his more serious side every so often as it’s not all about the con. Opposite Carrey, McGregor is the soft spoken better-half, though he’s a man certainly in need of a provider. I just wish his character had been explored a little deeper rather than the incapable lump he’s made out to be. I got the impression there’s a larger story to be told there.

Additionally, Requa and Ficarra are dealing with tricky territory here if they hope to ever find a mainstream audience, but they don’t shy from the gay aspect of the story. I’m sure many would argue they are actually quite in your face with the fact Phillip and Steven are gay, but I thought the way they introduced the idea into the film’s narrative was a decent way of approaching it for those that may be uncomfortable. Carrey speaking in voice over saying he’s “gay, gay, gay, gay, gay” was equally comical and truthful. It got this one detail out of the way with an upfront honesty and I felt Carrey and McGregor reflected that honesty. Carrey’s performances are always over the top so it occasionally felt like they he was putting on a show, but for the most part the homosexuality of the two main characters never felt as if it was being used as a punch-line, which seems to be common practice in today’s movies and television shows, at least those too afraid to deal with homosexuality as a way of life rather than an obscurity.

Everything considered, by no means is this is a bad film, but I do wish it had more to offer. When asked my opinion shortly after seeing it I told someone it felt as if it was both too long and too short. It gave me too much of one thing and not enough of another. A little more focus on the characters would have gone a long way, specifically McGregor’s Phillip Morris who becomes more of a prize to be won than a person all his own.



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