BY ROBERT HAMMERLE, guest contributor to Hammervision
Part farce and part tragedy, "I Love You Phillip Morris" is a diabolically wicked little film. Love him or hate him, it took a lot of "balls" (pun intended) for Jim Carrey to play the role of a flamboyantly gay conman, and he deserves credit for bringing an all but taboo subject front and center to the silver screen.
Yes, I know that Ang Lee focused on a homosexual love story in "Brokeback Mountain" (2005), but it was still told in the virile environment of the Old West. Sure they were gay lovers, but Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal were also manly men.
Furthermore, "Brokeback Mountain" treated homosexuality as if it is an infliction to be endured, nothing more and nothing less. "I Love You Phillip Morris" will have none of that, bringing to the screen a gay love story infused with the same joy, not to mention unvarnished intensity, as displayed between the two heterosexual lovers in this year's splendid "Love and Other Drugs." Along with the critically acclaimed lesbian romance "The Kids Are All Right," "I Love You Phillip Morris" represents a watershed moment in Hollywood history in its honest and open treatment of homosexuality.
Before talking about Jim Carrey's delightfully flawed performance, special attention needs to be paid to Ewan McGregor, whose earnest approach to his character named in the movie title carries this film. From the time he first meets Carrey in prison, McGregor is pitch-perfect as a human being who yearns to fall in love and not end up being abused in the process. He is sweet, vulnerable and totally convincing, and the price he pays for loving Carrey is viscerally heartbreaking at times.
McGregor's Phillip Morris is longs for affection, noting at one point, "It's been so long that anyone showed me kindness." While he desperately wants to believe Carrey when the latter says, "I wouldn't lie to you," he discovers too late that Carrey can't be true to anything because he really can't be true to himself.
McGregor is one of my favorite actors working today, as reflected by such varied performances as a glam rocker in "Velvet Goldmine" (1998); the star-crossed lover of Nicole Kidman in the fabulous "Moulin Rouge!" (2001) and his defining role as a ghost writer in one of this year's truly special movies of the same name. He brings an instant credibility to any character he portrays, and he has an instinct that only the great actors possess.
As the conman Steven Russell, Jim Carrey gets to play to all of his strengths. Straight or gay, no one plays a flamboyant character better than him. Quite frankly, I have long felt that he goes woefully underrated, not to mention under appreciated.
To be quite honest, I have been a great fan of Mr. Carrey's since he first catapulted to national prominence in the Wayan Brothers TV hit "In Living Color" in the early 1990's. And while there isn't time to point out all of his fine performances, suffice it to say that you should take a second look at his hysterical portrayal in "The Mask" (1994); his lovable idiotic "Dumb and Dumber" (1994); my favorite, "Liar Liar" (1997) and "The Truman Show" (1998).
He gave his best performance in "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" (2004) where he played Joel Barish, a lover so disheartened by his breakup with Kate Winslet that he sought to be brainwashed to relieve him of the pain of reflecting on his lost love. While many dismiss Carrey as simply a modern day Jerry Lewis, he is far more talented and accomplished.
Based on a true story, "I Love You Phillip Morris" centers around Carrey's continual quest to get his lover released from prison. However, even when he succeeds, it is impossible for him to refrain from swindling someone, eventually resulting in the two of them again landing in prison. As Carrey so wonderfully stated at one moment in the film, "I didn't know being gay was so expensive."
If there was a downside to Carrey's performance it was his unfortunate tendency to overact. While it wasn't fatal to enjoying this film, you did get the occasional feeling that you were watching a heterosexual actor trying too hard to impersonate a gay man. Regardless, I couldn't help but wonder if this was intentional on the part of co-directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa in order to make sure that heterosexual men in the audience felt more comfortable when frequently watching Carrey and McGregor kiss.
Having said that, Ficarra and Requa, who also wrote the screenplay, never let "I Love You Phillip Morris" stray too far from its central story. As a result, they brought to "I Love You Phillip Morris" the same irreverent feel that imbued their much better earlier film, "Bad Santa" (2003). While their films are clearly not for everyone, they are a refreshing movie experience for those of us who prefer naughty over nice. I for one enjoy going to the occasional movie where the script is dipped in a bit of human battery acid.