Wednesday, January 05, 2011
Love means never having to say you're lying
By Edward Copeland
It seems as if it has been ages since Jim Carrey was a box office behemoth, releasing huge hit after huge hit. Then it seemed as if he vanished, appearing in a film here or there, but most barely leaving an impression (and I'm including the general public's reaction to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, not the critical reception). That same fate seems to have befallen his latest, I Love You Phillip Morris, despite some end-of-the-year buzz and the best performance Carrey has given since The Man on the Moon back in 1999.
It's not often that a true story gets told in purely comic terms, but that's exactly what directors/co-writers Glenn Ficarra and John Requa have done with their adaptation of Steven McVicker's book about con man Steven Russell (Carrey). I Love You Phillip Morris tells you at the outset (twice) that it's based on fact because it's hard to comprehend that Russell got away with everything he did. In a way, he's reminiscent of Frank Abagnale Jr. in Catch Me With You Can, only minus any social conscience or true sense for self preservation.
When we first meet Russell, he's a married Southern cop with a hangup because his birth mother gave him up for adoption (at least that is what he says anyway: You can never be sure what to believe as he is the most unreliable of narrators). He's a devout, doting father who also happens to be gay. Eventually, he decides that breaking laws can be more lucrative than enforcing them, so he quits the force and the family moves and he switches "careers."
Part of the fun of the film which, despite its pleasing, comic tone, takes a while to warm up, are the surprises that come with what Russell gets away with until he's no longer able to get away with things any longer and heads to prison where he meets the title character (Ewan McGregor), no relation to the cigarette maker, and falls head over heels in love.
From there forward, his cons, schemes and plots exist solely to give Phillip and himself the best lifestyle he can. It's a funny, unbelievable story and Carrey is great with able support from McGregor as well as Leslie Mann as Russell's ex-wife who seems to understand her former man, even if his preferred Christmas gift for her and their daughter is large piles of cash.
I Love You Phillip Morris ends up being an interesting curio of a movie. It's infinitely watchable, but it's not something that you need to rush to see. In a year with a plethora of strong adapted screenplays, it was a bit of a surprise that the Writer's Guild tapped this script as one of its top five. There were plenty of better alternatives.