Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Conman Can't Catch A Break: I Love You Phillip Morris Is Good, Not Great!

The Good: Funny, Interesting characters, Good acting.
The Bad: Repetitive plot, Not as funny or endearing as I had hoped.
The Basics: At various points funny, I Love You Phillip Morris is edgy and interesting, but hardly timeless.

Back when I reviewed Brokeback Mountain (reviewed here!), I took a lot of flack for not liking the film because I am tired of super depressing movies about gay characters. Yes, I have been looking for a movie with gay characters where they are happy and do not get beaten to death. Call me crazy, I get tired of "gay film" being "violence against gay" film. In the process of that, I was advised to see I Love You Phillip Morris. So, tonight, I decided to do that.

I Love You Phillip Morris is edgy and it took some trust in the movie to not assume it was going the depressing route of so many other movies with gay, lesbian or transgendered characters. And while the movie lives up to that, it is not as incredible as I had been led to believe. It is essentially Fun With Dick And Jane with gay characters and I applaud the moment, early on, where Steven's sexuality is established as a simple matter of fact. While he loves Phillip, Steven's story is arguably much more about being a conman than it is about being a gay man and I like that about I Love You Phillip Morris.

Steven Russell is a cop who lives with his life happily, albeit hiding that he is gay from her, while looking for his birth mother. When he gets into a car accident, he comes out to Debbie and leaves her. He moves out with Jimmy to Florida and racks up some serious debts before he is caught for fraud and sent to prison. There, he meets Phillip Morris, who is trying to get another inmate medical attention. Phillip is in for theft of service for failing to return a rental car, but he is transferred the day they meet and the two fall in love. They write to one another and grow more and more attached, despite being separated by a yard.

But when Steven is transferred to a different facility, Phillip is heartbroken. So, when Steven is released, he springs Phillip and gets a job at a company where he is able to embezzle millions of dollars. His life with Phillip is turned upside down when he is again imprisoned and he makes every effort to break out and return to his love.

I Love You Phillip Morris is a remarkably repetitive movie and it does not take long before one feels like Steven is just not going to catch a break. He is repeatedly found out or betrayed and it soon becomes tiring to invest in him because he is the embodiment of the old adage that a leopard cannot change its spots. He is a conman and he cons and gets caught, escapes using his wits, and gets caught over and over and over again. The repetitive quality makes it worth watching the film once, but difficult to imagine that it would be worth watching more than that.

What is worth noting is the acting. Jim Carrey gives a distinctive performance by not simply acting like Jim Carrey. He is funny, but not manic and that gives his portrayal of Steven a chance for emotional depth that his characters do not usually have. On the flip side, Ewan McGregor as Phillip is almost entirely humorless, relegated to a supporting role. The position is a quiet one and McGregor wears it well, focusing on making the chemistry with Carrey believable. He works at it with a range of faint smiles and emoting with his eyes more than anything else.

Also delivering a good supporting performance is Leslie Mann, who plays Steven's ex-wife Debbie. Her scenes are verbally funny and she plays them deadpanned well enough to make the viewer believe that through all of the phases of Steven's life, she would still take his calls.

In short, because I am finding surprisingly little to write about the film, I Love You Phillip Morris is an entertaining film to watch, but hard to recommend for the buy. It is not quite clever or funny enough to add to one's permanent collection. But yes, it fits the bill for a movie with gay characters who are not particularly harassed, hated or harmed for their homosexuality.

For other films with strong gay or lesbian characters, be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Kids Are All Right
Strawberry And Chocolate


For other film reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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