Renn Brown: If it weren’t for Jim Carry’s character being as gay as the day is long, I Love You Phillip Morris would be quite the mainstream crowd-pleaser. Patterned off of upbeat, entertaining con-man films like Catch Me If You Can, starring the beloved Jim Carrey, and filled with romantic, downright cute moments… it’s everything your typical American moviegoer loves… except for the whole dudes putting their parts into other dudes thing. That said, I’m surprised it’s taken so long for a distributor to take a chance with this one because desthr pite the film playing the homosexuality angle very strongly and frankly, it’s also directed with note-perfect humor that finds natural comedy without turning the “gay movie” thing into a huge gimmick. Had the plot of I Love You Phillip Morris somehow revolved around a quirky straight couple the film would still be a good time, and that speaks to the comedic talent of writer/directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa. But Phillip Morris manages to actually be a very good movie, by finding the unique charm in this story of two men in love and by centering around a really strongly characterized leading man whose sexuality, abandonment issues, and criminal tendencies are all organically wrapped up together.
Nick Nunziata: What about the film made you think he might have been a little homosexual? I wasn’t sure, because even though there are scenes where he screams how gay he is and moments where he is thrusting everything he has into a rump I’m not convinced. In seriousness the first few scenes in the film had me worried about the pitch and tone the filmmakers were going for, but once it hits its stride (ie: his closet-smashing car accident) I Love You Phillip Morris is a very surprisingly entertaining blend of love story, satire, and crime romp. A lot of that has to do with Carrey’s fearless and magnetic performance but this is also the first time I have even seen Ewan McGregor as a convincing American. And the first time as a convincing American bottom.
Renn Brown: At the end of the day everything comes down to (and on to, and into) Jim Carrey and his mad, charming, but still grounded performance as Steven Russell. The man has always excelled at flipping between bat-shit crazy and intensely human, like a child playing hyper-actively with a toy, suddenly breaking it, and melodramatic sadness. Carrey has always been sort of vaudevillian in this way, and Phillip Morris gives him plenty of room in both directions to stretch his melodramatic skills, yet the whole thing is tinged with just enough maturity. I can only think of one moment in the whole film that made me recall his exaggerated performances in things like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Liar Liar, and frankly, I loved the joke. Everything else was as wild and energetic as you would expect from him, and yet it felt in service to a character as much as it was in service to Carrey’s laugh count. It is really quite wonderful to see him give a categorically great, powerful performance in a role that ISN’T a complete 180 turn from his usual schtick. In other words, unlike Eternal Sunshine for example, he’s not doing something so unusual and unprecedented that it provides easy contrast.
Ewan McGregor is great as the incredibly fey Phillip Morris, and he deserves credit for playing a more flamboyant gay man without sounding like he’s resorting to lazy stereotypes. Morris is ultimately the mechanism that brings out the craziest and cleverest stuff from Steven though, and he’s given very few moments to expand on the shy vulnerability that marks the character. He may be the titular character, but we’re here to watch Steven play con-man, and the film gets a lot of fun mileage from the kind of con-man procedural gags that we’ve grown so used to from Ocean’s movies, Catch Me If You Can, and the like.
Nick Nunziata: It’s really solid work from both leads and it truly is a nice marriage of Carrey’s more kinetic, wilder work and his more subdued stuff. There’s also a refreshingly loose and honest way the whole “gay” thing is handled. It’s aggressive and fun and the movie has no problems with showing a young Steven Russell seeing penis shapes in the clouds and coming out of the closet in the blunt , loud, and hilarious way that he does. There’s no message here and there’s no effort to make it a movie preaching about much of anything. It is singularly focused on the evolution (or more like the repeated mistakes of) a man and his love for someone else who also happens to be a man. There are spins on convention where the gender roles lead to the same dramatic situations that occur in traditional movies about relationships being tread but it never insults the premise. It helps that both actors are supremely committed to the work. It’s not easy to sell a boat blowjob and subsequent spitting of the yield into the sea without owning the role. Both actors are in peak form.
And then there’s Cleavon, the burly gentleman in the cell next to Phillip Morris. If there’s a man of action in cinematic 2010, it is Cleavon.
Renn Brown: His word is his motherfucking bond.
There are, perhaps, some points you could take away from the movie for its pretty haphazard narrative, but the movie is so intensely based on Steven’s journey that it doesn’t really matter. Steven is a con-man in a con movie, so of course the narrative is episodic, and it’s completely in character for him to “forget” to mention an important scene or detail until much later in the film. It all works because the character works, and it’s all funny because the character’s funny. Structure takes a major backseat, though you could just as easily argue that it’s free and interesting as you could that it’s messy or inconsistently paced. Really I just find myself remembering and chuckling over how great Carrey and McGregor are, and how fat and angry Cleavon is. Phillip Morris is the kind of “gay” movie that should be made more- ones that find the unique fun in a scenarios involving homosexuals, without making the sexual-preference angle the primary for the movie existing. Without assigning any grand social pressure on a fun film, it’s probably true that more matter-of-fact films like this could do a lot to help the cause of slow, steady shifts in pop-culture stigmas.
Nick Nunziata: The movie’s sort of gender blind. They’re a couple and they (mostly Steven) do dumb things in order to be happy. Phillip ignores obvious warning signs to be happy. It’s the American Dream. What I like is that for the most part it’s these two guys against the world and no matter how dire the situation is, they’re making it work. We don’t spend a lot of time with their extended friends and family once they’re together because the filmmakers are wise to keep the pace moving and the focus on the plentiful comedic opportunities just stemming from this crazy real life story.
I Love You Phillip Morris is extremely quotable and unafraid to embrace the material some would be offended by, proof that the writer/director team of John Requa and Glen Ficarra’s Bad Santa wasn’t a fluke. It’s just raunchy enough not to be cute and just cute enough not to push anyone’s buttons. This is definitely the gayest film I could sell my less open-minded friends to without fear (Kissing Jessica Stein being a close 2nd), and while that shouldn’t be the criteria for a recommendation it may actually help this film’s prospects.
The subject matter here is a tightrope walk. No small part thanks to Carrey’s fantastic work, the film pulls it off.
Renn Brown: It’s a real shame Phillip Morris has been subject to so much scrutiny and delay, forcing it to be released with all of the baggage that entails. Ultimately it’s a fun, well-constructed comedy that will be a highlight in Carrey’s career. It’s not quite original enough or transgressive enough to lead the charge in a storm of controversy or become an object of curiosity, but it’s good enough to deserve a legitimate shot at being seen. Be it in theaters or on home video, I think I Love You Phillip Morris will find an audience, and that audience is in for a treat.
Nick Nunziata: Though I’m sad they didn’t call it Catch Me in the Can for a variety of reasons, this is a fun film and it has no right having been on the shelf in limbo for so long. It’s really good and a charismatic little underdog of a movie.