Of all the crazy and quirky romantic comedies that have been released in 2010, there have only been four that I think have been worthy of anyone's time. All three are independent films. One of which is In 200 Characters or Less, which did not get national distribution. The second is Barry Munday, which did get national distribution but not much of a theatrical release, more available through video. The third is Youth in Revolt, which flew under most people's radars. The fourth is I Love You, Phillip Morris, and it did get a theatrical release. That's because its star, Jim Carrey, will probably be the one that most people will see or know about more. This suits me fine because I believe that it's the best of the four, not only for its star but for the clever, playfulness of its writer-directors.
John Requa and Glen Ficarra wrote and directed this film after having previously worked together for Cats and Dogs (2001) and Bad Santa (2003). I Love You, Phillip Morris is based on the book by Steve McVicker, a Houston-based reporter who first wrote about the infamous prison inmate named Steven Jay Russell. Russell was a frequent guest of the Harris County jail where he earned the nickname "Houdini" and "King Con."
Russell was a former deputy police officer in Georgia who used the information skills he learned there to trick employers and CEOs to give him high-paying jobs he didn't deserve nor was really qualified to do. He did this a couple of times. He got fired and bounced around, running similar scams before eventually landing a job as a chief financial officer or CFO at a prestigious Houston company. There, he swindled them out of tons of money before being arrested for insurance fraud.
While locked up again, he met the self-described, little, "blonde-haired, blue-eyed queer" named Phillip Morris. The two fell in love and after a while were paroled and lived happily. Eventually, Russell began scamming businesses but this time to more ridiculous levels in order to provide a lavish lifestyle for himself and Morris. When he was arrested, he was sentenced more severely. Russell became what he called "a fool for love" and mounted repeated prison escapes in order to be with Phillip Morris.
Russell was able to escape. He actually got out of jail. Authorities found him, but Russell was determined to be with Morris, so he broke out of prison again. He got caught again but Russell kept sneaking out over and over. By the time he was arrested for the final time in April 1998, Russell had accumulated 14 aliases, masquerading as a lawyer, a doctor, a cop, a handyman, and on and on, aliases he used to con people not only outside but inside the prison as well.
Ever since the sketch comedy show In Living Color going all the way up to The Mask (1994), a film that allowed him to physically morph into different things, Jim Carrey has been thought of as a human cartoon, able to comedically become all kinds of things. In that sense, Carrey was perhaps the perfect choice to play Steven Jay Russell, the man of many identities, in this romp rollicking in the ridiculous lengths a person will go for romance.
There's a question of whether or not, Russell, as portrayed here, is nothing more than a materialistic hedonist who became obsessed with young Phillip Morris, but the final moments of this movie make it clear that this was a man in love. Ewan McGregor (Moulin Rouge and Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace) plays Phillip Morris as a sweet and somewhat naive kid swept up into Russell's world.
And, that world- as Russell will tell you- is very gay, and Carrey, in this role, does not shy away from it. The homosexuality is on full display, some time to great comedic effect. Without showing an actual penis, there are so many phallic symbols and fellatio here you'd think you were watching an episode of HBO's Oz, and Carrey carries it well without making it too offensive.
The filmmakers do a good job of helping Carrey to execute the humor and the humanity, so we're whisked through this story and after a point, we don't care that they're two men. We're just impressed and interested on where this thing is going because the story is funny and engaging, interesting, unique and at moments mysterious. The premise on paper might sound like a corny, Hollywood hack idea dreamt up for Katherine Heigl or Jennifer Aniston or Adam Sandler, but Requa and Ficcara balance the silliness and the smoothness, giving each scene its proper weight. The filmmakers and even Jim Carrey know when to bring it down to Earth and when to keep it in the clouds.
This film also had some amazingly well-done music cues and an equally amazing soundtrack.
Five Stars out of Five.
Rated R for sexual content and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 38 mins.