Directed by: Glenn Ficarra and John Requa
Premise: Based on a true story, a homosexual con artist (Jim Carrey) meets the love of his life (Ewan McGregor) while in prison. When they are released, the con uses his skills to maintain an extravagant lifestyle but constantly finds himself in trouble with the law.
What Works: I Love You, Phillip Morris is a film told as an inside joke. The story is presented in flashback with a lot narration which has an aloof and flamboyant tone that is befitting Jim Carrey’s character. As he tells us the joke that is his life story, the audience is let in on the gag and we laugh along with him. But over the course of the film the audience is also clued into another joke: that Jim Carrey’s character is a talented idiot. He excels at devising schemes and manipulating those around him but he can never see the bigger picture and keeps getting himself and his partner into deeper and deeper trouble. As the viewer makes this realization about the character, it ought to make him and the film off-putting, but just the opposite is true and the actor is largely to credit for that. Jim Carrey gives one of the best performances of his career in I Love You, Phillip Morris. The role allows Carrey to channel the comic skills that made him famous in earlier work like Ace Ventura and The Mask but in I Love You, Phillip Morris Carrey also incorporates the skills he demonstrated in more nuanced roles in films like Man on the Moon and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The result of that combination is a performance that possesses Carrey’s characteristic energy but also creates a lot of empathy for his character. Ewan McGregor also impresses in his role as the naïve love interest. Although Carrey is more colorful, McGregor carries the brunt of the film’s pathos appeal. The misadventures and cons perpetuated by Carrey’s character, although funny in the moment, have an emotional cost on their relationship and McGregor’s character makes that cost clear. The story effectively foils the attempts by Carrey’s character to accumulate a materialistic lifestyle as his fraud continuously robs him of everything and damages his relationship with McGregor’s character. The empathy that both of these characters elicit from the audience is important because I Love You, Phillip Morris runs the risk of being perceived as homophobic. It is not a homophobic film; this is not a film about homosexuality at all. I Love You, Phillip Morris is really a comedy about the materialism of the American dream and the way it has been corrupted by greed and an unearned sense of entitlement. The fact that the characters are homosexual is happenstance (and a detail of the true story upon which I Love You, Phillip Morris is based). On the other hand, the fact that the film satirizes the new American dream through a pair of gay characters is not entirely without significance. When set against the programming on supposedly gay-friendly cable networks like E! and Bravo, whose roster of original shows are little more than consumerist propaganda, a film like I Love You, Phillip Morris comes across more than a little subversive. It makes that commentary through comedy but ultimately this is the anti-Sex and the City and like its main character the film is considerably smarter than it appears.
What Doesn’t: Some viewers may find the I Love You, Phillip Morris obnoxious. Although the film is clearly trying to send up some of the stereotypes about homosexuality and gay culture, it also traffics in them. It is a subtle distinction and the film does maintain its transgressive qualities. But nevertheless audiences may find the characters so flaming that the performances snap the viewer out of the picture at times.
DVD extras: Commentary track, featurette, and trailers.
Bottom Line: I Love You, Phillip Morris is a smart and funny film that manages to provide some commentary on the culture of consumption. Although the film’s appeal might be limited it is worth a look for its outstanding performances and sharp commentary.
Episode: #350 (July 27, 2011)