SARAH MCCANN: ‘Funny but never hilarious, romantic but never soppy, it’s wrong to define this film simply as a comedy, or indeed solely as a love story’
Directed by Glen Ficarra and John Requa.
I Love You Phillip Morris was not quite what I had expected. Comparable with Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can, this 97 minute long piece of apparently true-to-life Texan magic stars much-loved Jim Carrey alongside blonde (in this film) bombshell Ewan McGregor. Funny but never hilarious, romantic but never soppy, it’s wrong to define this film simply as a comedy, or indeed solely as a love story, as it delves into much darker regions than the typical rom com.
With celestial clouds lining the film’s opening credits and the first scene showing skeletal Steven Russell (Carrey) lying grey-faced in a hospital bed, it is quite clear from the outset that the film will break the expected mould of a boy meets boy love story. After his parents reveal to Steven that they bought him as a baby from his mother in the hospital car park, our protagonist proceeds to lead an honourable life, devoutly religious, keeping his wife very happy.
However, two sex scenes later, and Steven’s car is smashed into, an event that leads him to “come out”, and proceed in an extravagant relationship with hunk Jimmy (Rodrigo Santoro). As events unfold, Steven finds himself in prison for insurance fraud, where he meets the gentle-spirited Phillip Morris (McGregor). From here, their relationship begins to blossom into real romance, with totally convincing and moving performances from both Carrey and McGregor. Supporting characters also work well, particularly the duo’s aggressive but largely comic cellmate friend.
From here on in, the film becomes more serious, and in spite of the silent-movie style cycle of Steven’s various arrests and ingenious escapes, it tackles bigger subjects like compulsive lying and AIDS in an atypical style that leads you to question consciously whether you ought to be laughing or crying. Equally, you come to a point where you can’t decide whether you should hate Steven for what he is – a dishonest, manipulative criminal – or love him for what he could be – a loyal and selfless lover.
Altogether, this film is not your typical rom-com, and you are never really allowed to drift along on a wave of romance. More often than not that wave dumps you under the water, and it is certainly brave to create a film that deals with the bigger issues in a darkly comic way. Certainly, Jim Carrey has come a long way from his rubber-faced Ace Ventura days, balancing his trademark mad professor shtick with a sentimentality which makes I Love You Phillip Morris a tale of modern love which is well worth a watch.