Every decade or so Jim Carrey decides to remind us that maybe he isn’t
the most awful leading man in Hollywood today. He’ll make a movie where
he’s (more) subdued, where the jokes aren’t corny or stupid and where
the story is sweet but not sappy. The last time he did this was Eternal
Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
. Now he’s come back and done it again
with I Love You Phillip Morris.

Based on a true story, I Love You Phillip Morris finds Carrey as a
decent, Christian family man making his living in a small town police
force. But while he’s raising his daughter in a house filled with love,
he’s also hiding a secret – he’s gay. Really, really gay. When a car
accident leaves him near death he decides that he needs to stop
pretending and leaves his wife, moves to Miami and becomes a flaming
homosexual with a pretty boy Latin lover. But as he says in a hilarious
voice-over, being gay isn’t cheap, and the same instincts that led him
to hide his sexuality actually make him an excellent con man. But the
authorities eventually catch up with him and he ends up in jail, where
he meets the titular Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor) and the two
discover that between them there is a love that is epic, extraordinary
and quite often really weird.

What I really loved about I Love You Phillip Morris is that the
introduction of the title character, and the object of Carrey’s
affections, doesn’t come until about thirty minutes in. The film is
structured loosely and is unafraid of going off on tangents; it feels
like a yarn that is being spun. The structure may confuse people who
make the mistake of reading the official synopsis (since most of the
stuff mentioned there happens in the third act), but it’s fun to watch
a film that isn’t rigidly shoehorned into three carefully delineated
acts. Some may complain that the film is episodic, but for me that’s
one of the main selling points.

And it’s sold well by Carrey. I wish I could like the guy this much in
every film role; in I Love You Phillip Morris he brings energy without
being manic and manages to find the exact perfect level of broadness
while staying human and identifiable. Add to that the braveness of
playing a very gay guy – we’re introduced to the character’s
homosexuality as he fucks a mustache guy from behind. The mustache guy
cries out ‘Cum in my ass!’ and Carrey sings ‘I AM!!!!’ This isn’t a
genteel homosexuality that will play in Peoria – and Carrey has earned
enough goodwill from me that it will take at least two shitty dumb comedies to
completely waste it.

Unfortunately Ewan McGregor isn’t as strong, but then again he’s
playing something of a device instead of a character. He’s a catalyst
for Carrey’s actions and doesn’t until the end, really start coming
into his own. Leslie Mann, though, is fantastic as Carrey’s ex-wife who
still keeps in close touch with him throughout his con man and prison

I read the script to I Love You Phillip Morris about a year ago and was
amazed at a hard, sharp turn that the movie takes in the final act. I
loved it on the page but wasn’t sure how it would play on film. It
turns out that newbie directors (and the guys who wrote the script)
Glenn Ficarra and John Requa execute it perfectly. It’s a film-defining
moment, and I think it defines the film as ballsy and maybe a touch
insane. I’m excited for this film to get distribution so I can read all
the reactions to this bit, to be honest.

Ficarra and Requa have put together a damn fine film, one that
looks quite lovely, has a hilarious and fascinating script and that
manages to reign in Jim Carrey enough to deliver one of the better
performances of his whole career.
The movie has distribution
everywhere but America right now, and I hope that changes pronto – I
can see I Love You Phillip Morris popping up on a lot of people’s
favorite films of 2009 list.

8 out of 10