Monday, February 29, 2016

I Love You, Phillip Morris Review (Classic Write-Up)

At the tail end of the first decade of the 21st century, Jim Carrey found himself in a state of cinematic experimentation. The 2005 feature Fun With Dick And Jane would turn out to be one of only three PG-13 comedies the actor would star in in the next decade, a shocking development considering how that exact type of movie had been his bread and butter in box office juggernauts like The Mask, Dumb And Dumber and Bruce Almighty. In the years since that Dean Parisot vehicle, he's participated in familiar territory like family movies, but has mainly stayed on the sidelines to participate in supporting roles in box office non-starters like Kick-Ass 2 and The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.

In the past ten years, Carrey has become more well-known for his social media eccentricities (remember his creepy video dedicated to Emma Stone?) and endangering children and stigmatizing Autistic people alike with his anti-vaxxer views. But there is one feature film in recent years that demonstrates that this guy still has it, a 2010 indie movie called I Love You, Phillip Morris. While this one contains, like many of the most successful features for Carrey, loads of comedy, it's also got Carrey playing a far more flawed individual than usual and also contains more overtly farcical elements.

Steven Russell (Jim Carrey) is a man whose entire life has been built on fabrications. Hell, one of the very first scenes of the movie depicts Russell as a child being told that he's adopted, a fact his parents kept from him for years. His dependence on falsehoods seeps into his adult life, where he hides his homosexuality for many years until a near fatal car crash leads him to embrace his sexuality. Of course, his reliance on lies don't end there, and he's soon utilizing the art of credit card fraud in order to obtain a lavish lifestyle. When he's caught and tossed into prison, he meets a man by the name of Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor), an individual that he feels deeply in love with.

One of the smartest things about I Love You, Phillip Morris (which is based on a true story) is that both the script and Carrey's performance don't' t try to make Morris into a lovable hero. Both elements of the film are very aware that this is a deceitful man whose conniving treatment of others is something we, the viewer, should root against. At the same time, there is nuance to be found here, namely in how Russell does have feelings for Morris despite the chicanery he commits to express it. This doesn't excuse his actions, but it lends gravitas to his various antics, giving one more to think about in terms of character motivation than in a typical Carrey vehicle.

Speaking of Carrey, the dude truly excels as an actor here, putting aside some of his trademark acting quirks (namely, an overabundance of exaggerated physical movements), instead embracing subtlety to bring Steven Russell to life. He's also got rock solid chemistry with Ewan McGregor, here given a twang-filled accent and blonde hair to play the titular character Phillip Morris. Like Carrey, McGregor is a delight here, and he and the script (penned by the directors of the film, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa) smartly give Morris a distinct personality to call his own. He isn't just a romantic object for Russell to covet, he's got his own traits and desires to speak of, and he's not afraid to call out Russell on his BS when the opportunity arises.

I Love You, Phillip Morris was surrounded by numerous release date delays, before quietly getting shuttered off to a no-frills theatrical release that ended up becoming the lowest grossing film ever at the domestic box for Mr. Carrey (with the exception of the 1984 comedy Finders Keepers). Since it's low-key debut, I hadn't heard much talk about this film, but man, I really do hope I Love You, Phillip Morris gets more attention as the years go by. It's a rollicking, extremely well-written motion picture that gets career-best performances out of Carrey and McGregor.

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