They say that truth is stranger than fiction. The romantic black comedy I Love You Phillip Morris tells the true story of conman Stephen Russell, who escaped prison multiple times in order to be reunited with his gay lover. Rather than a run-of-the-mill goofy comedy that Jim Carrey is known for, we’re given a remarkable portrayal of true love and the lengths that people will go to in order to preserve it.
When the film starts off, we have no idea who Stephen Russell really is. We first see him in a hospital bed, recalling the events of his life. Early on, Stephen was a married man (his wife is played by the lovely Leslie Mann, who plays the role as a milk-guzzling uber-Christian housewife wonderfully) living in Virginia Beach working as a police officer. Turns out, Stephen was adopted as a child, and only became a cop so he could have the resources to find his birth mother. After a car crash, Stephen vows to live his life as the person he was born to be – a gay man. So he leaves his wife, moves to Florida, and the gay stereotypes ensue. One of my only complaints is that the film portrays gay men as high-maintenance, obsessed with material things, and incredibly impulsive. This is really only an issue early on in the film, and it’s obviously for comedic effect but it was a bit over-the-top.
In order to fund the extravagant life that he and his boyfriend live, Stephen becomes a conman. It doesn’t take long before he gets caught though, and he gets sent to prison. Which is where he meets the love of his life, fellow inmate Phillip Morris. Ewan McGregor turns in what I believe is the best performance of his career as the blonde-haired blue-eyed sweetheart Phillip Morris. McGregor plays the character with a convincing flamboyancy, but not offensively so. And Carrey is the best we’ve seen him since Eternal Sunshine. His patented brand of goofiness is present as always, but his performance is grounded and has real heart. The chemistry between him and McGregor is remarkable, and the viewer can’t help but fall in love with them.
The film takes off and never stops. The 93-minute running time quite literally runs by. The screenplay by John Requa and Glenn Ficarra (the geniuses behind Bad Santa and the fantastic romcom Crazy, Stupid, Love.) not only made me laugh constantly from start to finish, but it touched me on a level that few recent films have. Without spoiling anything about the plot, there were definitely a few scenes that had me in tears. Very rarely does a film come along that can bring out all of your emotions, and every time I do come across one I can’t help but be impressed.
After a ton of laughs and a few darkly comic detours, the film’s third-act twist is bravely tasteless and nefarious. I was genuinely shocked by what happened and honestly exclaimed in anger, but not because it was bad. The twist is just so mean-spirited for the viewer that you can’t help but feel betrayed after the emotional rollercoaster you were just led through. But its effect is visceral and definitely did what it was supposed to do. Props to the filmmakers, and do yourself a favor and do not read up on Stephen Russell’s history before the movie. Do that afterwards. It will make the entire experience organic and more unforgettable.
You have to hand it to Jim Carrey. The guy is a money-maker, and could easily churn out a Mr. Popper’s Penguins every year and waste his talent. But every few years, he comes along and reminds everybody that he’s one of Hollywood’s best actors when he wants to be. I Love You Phillip Morris is constantly funny, sometimes gut-wrenchingly sad, but always great to watch. Do yourself a favor and see this movie.
4.5/5 stainless steel watches.