I Love You Phillip Morris

Reviewed By MP Bartley
Posted 11/04/10 02:14:40

"Love makes the world go round - but this film needs a little more."
3 stars (Average)

There are many things to commend about I Love You, Phillip Morris. It has a great central performance, some very funny sequences and a nicely played non-judgemental attitude towards the sexuality of its two characters. But the fact that the end credits that update you on the life of the the characters afterwards gives you the impression that the film should have been more interesting than it is, does tell you it misses as much as it hits.

It's the true story of Steve (Jim Carrey) a gay ex-cop who winds up in prison for fraudulent offences. It is whilst he is incarcerated that he runs into the blonde-haired blue-eyed Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor), a fellow criminal with whom he forms a deep and loving relationship. A relationship that lasts through seperation, prison breaks and much more criminal activity besides.

Quite reminiscent of Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can, it draws a lot of comic mileage out of Steve's various cons and frauds. Posing amongst other things as a lawyer, directors Ficcara and Requa, undercut everything that Steve does with a comic glint and bubbly verve, perfectly suggesting the giddy high that someone would get from pulling off a con against very intelligent people while keeping the jittery feeling that it could all go wrong at any second.

It's no spoiler to say that things do go wrong for Steve quite a lot and around half the film is set in prison as he tries to manufacture ways to see Phillip and get the pair out of them out of prison, legally or not. Again, this is the film at its best, briskly-paced and cheery of demeanour and it's a real pleasure to be with it at these moments. Pleasingly, the fact that this is a homosexual love story is never used as a cheap joke (the only time it is is a moment of real celebration, when Steve's sexuality is revealed to us for the first time). Instead, it's written and shot with real sensitivity, culminating in a lovely, but amusing, shot of the two of them slowdancing in their cell, whilst a fellow inmate next door engages with a profane-strewn argument with the guards.

Carrey gives a performance that may well be the best he's yet given. The problem there has previously been with Carrey is that his very facial make-up means every look and inflection he gives looks exaggerated for comic effect, meaning it's hard to take him seriously, but it's something he fights against here. He nails the comic scenes with his manic energy and rapid-fire thinking as he descends deeper and deeper into fraud, but gets to do some proper, serious, grown-up acting late on and does it very well indeed.

The main problem is that there's not a great deal to the film besides Steve, when there really should be. McGregor has refined the broad accent he debuted in Burton's Big Fish, but is saddled with a dead weight of a character. Aside from his looks, we're never sure why Steve falls so quickly and so deeply for him. He doesn't do anything, apart from look happy when they're together and vaguely angry when Steve's escapades have caused problems again. There's a hint of Phillip being left behind as Steve pretends to be engaged to a woman whilst posing as a lawyer, but it's one throwaway line that is never elaborated on again. Carrey throws himself in with such devotion that we believe he loves Phillip, but with an underwritten role, we're never sure why.

And then there's those end credits. As they scroll up they make you think, "Wow, he really must have pissed people off", but you wouldn't have guessed it from the 95 minutes beforehand. As amusing as it, you'd be forgiven for thinking that nobody really cared that much about what Steve got up to. The trouble is, a lot of people did and the film would have benefitted from seeing their point of view. Imagine Catch Me If You Can without Tom Hanks and you get an idea of the hollowness at the centre of the film that Carrey's performance and the sprightly and colourful direction can't quite hide.

As I say, there's lots to admire in I Love You, Phillip Morris from a quirky and Coens-esque fascination with clouds (particularly phallic shaped ones), to a last-act gear-change that works very, very well, just when you think it hasn't. You can pick out and watch individual sequences in isolation and be fooled into thinking there's a greater whole to it - while that's an irony that Steve might have appreciated, it's not one that serves the film particuarly well.

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