I Love You Phillip Morris (2010)
The funniest movie of the year and the funniest Jim Carrey’s been since his days with the Farrelly brothers.
I Love You Phillip Morris is the true story of one Steven Russell who came out of the closet in the early ’90s, amicably broke off his hetero marriage and gave up a career in law enforcement to live a lavishly flamboyant lifestyle fueled by insurance fraud of the highest order. Eventually, Johnny Law caught up with him, locked him up, and then he met a fellow prisoner who ended up being the love of his life. Since prison is no place to settle down, Steven broke out of prison time and time again by impersonating an attorney, a doctor, an escort, and a CFO amongst other identities while on the lam in order to get his beau out of the big house so that they could live happily ever after.
It’s like Escape from Alcatraz mixed with Catch Me if You Can mixed with Brokeback Mountain, and while that probably shouldn’t make sense, it’s actually a freakin’ rip.
Written and directed by Glenn Ficara and John Requa who have justified their plaguing the world with Cats & Dogs and The Bad News Bears remake by giving us Bad Santa – depends on who you ask, but it’s arguably the best Christmas movie of the past decade – and this little gem that deserves way more publicity and way more screenings than it’s gonna get. The thing is, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a prison-based comedy before. I remember that Let’s Go to Prison movie coming out a couple years ago, but I also remember hearing it royally sucked, and while Cool Hand Luke, Shawshank and The Longest Yard all have their fair share of chuckles, it strikes me as strange that more writers haven’t jumped on Ficara and Requa’s bandwagon of just going for full-out belly laughs.
Because let me tell ya’, based off the hard time I did in Sing Sing over the last six years (you don’t even wanna know), prison is some hardcore shit where you’re more likely to get shanked with a spork than trade knock-knock jokes with the Warden. Doesn’t seem like the ripest setting for comedy, what with all that “Don’t drop the soap!” tomfoolery, but by the some token, that’s why it’s the perfect place to stage a comedy. It’s the contrast of drawing humor out of the one place in the world that no one save Charlie Bronson would want to find themselves bunking up in, it’s this vault of potential that’s just waiting to be tapped dry, and this movie ends up being that much fresher for the way it leaps dick-first into uncharted waters.
And the whole prison aspect is just part of why it works. It’s unabashedly gay without being offensive thanks to a love story that comes off as more genuine and tongue-in-cheek than outright flaming, the comedic timing is absolutely flawless whether it’s a jump-cut to Jim Carrey giving it to his wife after a never-ending bedside prayer session or Jim Carrey bullshitting his way through a court hearing by having a staring contest with the judge and the prosecutor until they unintentionally win the case for him, and the dialogue is so damn sharp and brash that it all just left me howling. The only downside of the script is that balance between funny and serious tends to lean a little too heavily on the latter end of things when Carrey and McGregor are first getting to know each other, but when they’re apart, it’s gold, baby. Gold!
But Jim Carrey, man…I thought we’d lost the guy for good. He went from my childhood idol to a totally legit dramatic actor to starring in the regrettable and forgettable Yes Man, Fun with Dick and Jane, The Number 23 and a bunch of other shitty efforts that I can’t justify burning two hours on when I could be spending that time YouTubing Fire Marshall Bill videos instead. Point is: it’s been a long, long time since Carrey’s been at the top of his game, but just when I thought he couldn’t possibly be any dumber, he goes and takes a mondo pay cut to play Steven Russell…and totally redeems himself!
I wouldn’t call it a “brave” role by any means, but it’s great to see good ol’ Rubber Face be hilarious without characterizing himself or going all Stanley Ipkiss on us. Like I said, it’s all about timing and Carrey nails it from beginning to end. He’s not exactly known for making out with dudes, simulating bee-jays and strutting his stuff in drag all in the name of art, but Carrey seems to be having a great time playing Russell and it’s great to just sit back and watch him go.
Ewan McGregor, on the other hand, is more comfortable in his own skin and more confident in his sexuality than most men will probably ever realize, and he seems quite comfortable in the role of Russell’s main squeeze, Phillip Morris. I mean, you run into McGregor on the street and he’ll probably sign your shirt with his whang for a high-five and a smile, so this isn’t exactly pushing the envelope for him. Nevertheless, he’s good here and helps bring a good amount of heart to the story, but as you can probably imagine, he gets a bit overshadowed by Carrey pretty early on.
And Steven Russell’s life really is one wild story. Effing ingenious the ways he kept breaking out.
But, folks, with the exception of Get Him to the Greek and MacGruber (yes, that was hilarious), 2010 has proven to be a pretty weak year for comedies. And while I don’t get how Jim Carrey had to take a pay cut to be in this movie and will probably be paid more than I’ll make in a lifetime to be in Mr. Popper’s Penguins next year, props to him for jumping on a quality script and giving us a performance that should remind us why he got famous in the first place. That Steven Russell’s got one amazing life, it left me with this euphoric movie-going high for days that I rarely get anymore, and I Love You Phillip Morris is just one of the more thoroughly entertaining movies I’ve seen in quite a while. Would pay to see this again in a heartbeat and would probably laugh just as loud.
And it introduced me to this unreal Nina Simone song that I’d never heard before and haven’t been able to stop listening to since. So that was awesome!