Eye For Film >> Movies >> I Love You Phillip Morris (2009) Film Review
Sometimes it can be hard to go straight. Steve (Jim Carrey) is an adopted child anxious to be liked who goes all out to live the life that's expected of him - getting married, attending church, having a child and working as a police officer - until one day an accident causes him to re-evaluate his life and come out as gay. The trouble is that it's not just in regard to sex that he has trouble staying on the straight and narrow. Having learned to deceive, he just can't resist continuing to chance his arm, leading inevitably to prison - and to the love of his life.
Is love enough to change a man? That's one of the questions asked in this uneven but brave film that tries hard to challenge Hollywood expectations and add a little depth to its story at the same time. It's hard to imagine anyone other than Carrey in the lead as much of the humour is based around sending up his previous personas, and he brings genuine charm to this incorrigible man. Viewers will find it easy to root for him as he attempts to get away with one crazy trick after another; Ewan McGregor has to work hard opposite him to remind us why those tricks, and his apparent addiction to them, are problematic.
Many viewers will find it harder to accept Carrey in the role of a gay man, and there's plenty of humour to be had there too, especially in the scene that introduces the idea. It's a bold move for an actor keen to reinvent himself as audiences grow overfamiliar with his trademark wacky leads, and in a scene where he is obliged to wear hotpants and heels he even goes some way toward redeeming himself for the gratuitous transphobia of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. What makes it work is that the film sticks so close to the form of a traditional Hollywood romance, ignoring the tropes of gay indie cinema. So we have the lingering close-ups, the love songs and the dramatic gestures, also challenging in the way they subvert gender expectations, effectively feminising McGregor.
Importantly, this is done without that little pat on the back that says it's okay, gay people are really just like every other boring couple - rather than play it safe, there's plenty of wild (though not explicit) sex, and the clichés of a fashionable gay lifestyle provide part of the motivation for Steve's schemes to get rich. There's even a treatment of AIDS that appears to be pandering to the pathos of films like Philadelphia, only to gleefully subvert all that has gone before in mainstream cinema.
As a challenge to Hollywood's treatment of gay people, then, I Love You Phillip Morris is undoubtedly a success. One hopes that viewers who get something they didn't bargain for will be won over by the comedy and find themselves gradually accepting the romance. Unfortunately it's not as strong a film on other levels. Adapted from a book allegedly based on a true story, it meanders all over the place, seeming much longer than it really is. Cutting out half an hour would have made it work much better.
As Phillip, McGregor isn't really taking much of a risk, having played similar parts before, but his is the trickier role; where Carrey can rely on charm and strange behaviour, he has to be both grounded and convincingly naive. Despite an unintentionally hilarious accent (after Angels And Demons this seems to be becoming a habit), he works fairly well, and is emotionally the more convincing of the two. But he has to do it by himself, the script giving him little to work with. This is one of those romances where we are asked to take the feelings between the leads on faith because we don't really see what it is that makes them appeal so strongly to each other.
In deliberately working to break down genre conventions, I Love You Phillip Morris emerges as an odd hybrid of a film. There's plenty to enjoy, but some distance to be travelled before the stories it seems to presage are ready to be told at their best.Reviewed on: 03 Mar 2010
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