REVIEWS YOU CAN USE: Sadly, it may be a long time before we ever see I Love You Phillip Morris in an U.S. cinema. Since we missed it at Sundance we had to cross the pond to catch it, and believe it, Americans are missing out.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?: Steven Russell (Jim Carrey) becomes a con-man so that he can live a wealthy gay lifestyle. But once he’s arrested for insurance fraud, he finds himself in a Texas state penitentiary where he meets the love of his life, the demure and devoted Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor). The two get a crack at happiness as free men, but when Russell continues conning for fabulousness, Russell is forced to lie, cheat, and swindle his way out of prison just so he and Morris can live happily ever after.
WHO’S IN IT?: Jim Carrey, an animated comedian who often overacts, but controls a demanding emotional range even better than he did in The Truman Show — he’s a con man on a never-ending high wire act always on the verge of being caught and in danger of believing his own lies. He stars alongside Rodrigo Santoro, a handsome Brazilian actor who played Paolo in LOST and Xerxes, the villainous 7-foot Persian drag queen emperor in the ultra-hunky Spartan splatterfest 300. Lastly, there’s the immensely talented Ewan McGregor who played gay in The Velvet Goldmine and The Pillow Book and unabashedly kissed Carrey while promoting the film.
IS IT ANY GOOD?: Definitely. Even though they edited out some of the gay content to find an American distributor (including the hot musclefuck scene), there’s no lack of arch camp, sexy time, or genuine romance. The movie charmingly cons the viewer almost as often as Russell cons those around him and each scene provides unexpected and heartwarming touches of humor — even when they involve prison beatings, staying closeted at work, lying to loved ones, and dying of AIDS. Overall, the film does a great job lampooning gay, Christian, corporate, and rural stereotypes without becoming cliché or losing the deeper humanity of its characters.
WHAT’S BAD ABOUT IT?: Without giving too much away, the film ends on a bit of a down note, suitable to the non-fiction material. It’s a romantic comedy for sure, but it’ll definitely jerk a tear or two out of your jaded little heart.
FUN FACT: The real life Steven Jay Russell had over 14 aliases and masqueraded as a judge, a physician, a police officer, and a handyman to escape from jail four times (each time on Friday the 13th). Since the release of the book and the film, netizens have started a “Free Steven Jay Russell” internet petition to convince Texas Governor Rick Perry to release the non-violent prisoner currently serving in a maximum security jail.
RATING: Five out of five handcuffs: Finally, a gay romantic comedy that’s fresh, original, and darkly funny without ever coming off nasty, mean spirited, or one-dimensional. Its being based on a true story just makes the love and con-games all the sweeter.