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I Love You Phillip Morris

I Love You Phillip Morris

Love, exciting and new. Come aboard, they're expecting you

dir: Glenn Ficara and John Requa

Gee, I wonder why this flick, which has somehow only now reached Australian cinemas (Cinema Nova in Melbourne), nearly three years after its production, never really got a decent release at the cinemas in the States.

Could it be because of the subject matter: a con artist in love who perpetrates stacks of scams in order to keep himself and the object of his affections in the comfort they have become accustomed to? Is it because it’s based on a true story? Hollywood hates that. Is it because of where much of the flick is set, being prison? Is it because Jim Carrey is the lead actor, and no-one’s heard of this young up-and-comer, or Ewan McGregor in a supporting role, and studios are reluctant to release flicks with such unknowns in the lead?

Or is it because it’s the gayest flick this side of one of those Sex In the City movies?

Brokeback Mountain didn’t really break down that many barriers or walls of prejudice in terms of changing the dynamic that dictates what flicks get out there into the intellectual marketplace or the cinematic marketplace. Sure, a casual stroll through one of those dinosaur DVD stores might grace you with the vision of a section devoted to movies considered to be representatives of the Gay and Lesbian genre (a ghetto that resides next to the world movies and ‘special’ interest documentaries and such.

Now, I’m not talking about those kinds of grotty places where people furtively seek out stroke material whilst glancing nervously about (do they even exist any more, what with cornucopia of plenty that is the magic of the tubes of the internets?). I mean the mainstream movie Blu-ray / DVD places where you can pick up your latest box set of Midsomer Murders, or, if you have no soul, season 4 of Two and a Half Men.

Films like Brokeback, Philadelphia, or ones where the gay character is in a supporting role, and is just there to be bitchy, fabulous and sexless, don’t really represent a new awakening or ‘acceptance’ as far as I’m concerned. They represent, at best, a kind of minstrel show of broad stereotyping and disco music to keep them as the Other whilst crafting comfortable narratives that won’t offend the old biddies AND which make them feel so, so tolerant for not throwing up in outrage.

How noble. The reason no-one wanted to touch this flick with a ten-foot bargepole is because, even though Jim Carrey is a painful ham to behold whether he’s playing a hetero lunatic or a gay lunatic, it’s pretty explicit in its approach to the fact that the main characters are gay. I mean, they’re not actually gay, are they, but they’re constantly simulating man-on-man action.

Carrey throws himself into the role with gusto, perhaps too much gusto, but gusto nonetheless. He plays Steven Russell, an irritatingly charming pillar of the community who up and decides that, motivated by a car crash, he’s going to stop living the lie he’s been living for too long. Long enough to get married and have kids, in fact.

The lie is that he’s a pillar of the community. The truth is that not only is he very gay, but that he’s pretty much going to spend the rest of his life popping in and out of jail due to his propensity for lying and stealing, despite having started off as a cop.

It’s played mostly for laughs, but an early scene has Steven being told by his family that he’s adopted. The quest for identity is played for a piss-poor joke when he arrives on his birth mother’s doorstep, and painfully mishandles the confrontation as only a character played by Jim Carrey could.

There was no need to destroy the woman’s screen door, Carrey. That’s just too much, even for you. I hope you reimbursed her, and all.

Steven dictates the vast majority of the story to us from his death bed, where Carrey lies looking like he’s at death’s door, or like he’s a member of KISS without the makeup on. He really is very creepy throughout, but especially at those times.

You’d think, and in an empowering version of this story it would probably happen, that once he outs himself in fine style and moves to Miami and gets into a fabulous relationship with a hot, young Hispanic guy, that things would be looking up. The problem is he wants lots of money, but not to have to work for it. He seems to set up the men in his life like trophy husbands, primped and preened surrounded only by the finest crap stolen money can buy, and of course none of this will prevent the inevitable.

Thankfully, though I get the feeling the person who this flick is based on probably did try it on, since he seems to have lied about virtually everything else, the flick doesn’t contend that the prejudice faced by gay people or the difficulties in trying to hide his identity at his employment compelled him to steal so much goddamn money. The flick doesn’t really blame him for it (since that would impact on the light and breezy tone the flick tries and mostly succeeds in generating), but it can’t exonerate him either.

His actions land him in jail, and there he meets the love of his life. Before that fateful moment we are treated to the lightest and funniest version of the “hey kid, this is how it works in the joint” I’ve seen, which invariably represents the only marketplace and currency of favour trading and barter being entirely based on the giving of blowjobs.

Now, I’ve seen enough episodes of Oz to know that this flick’s version of how prison works has practically been Disneyfied, but that’s okay. The flick isn’t bothering to pretend that it’s a gritty rendering of prison life. There are plenty of realistic, or realistic for the cinema-going public, versions of that tale, though most people think they’ve got a true insight because they’ve watched Shawshank Redemption a couple of times.

Steve meets Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor), and falls head over heels in love with this sensitive Southern flower who looks like he wouldn’t survive an hour on the bus traveling towards a prison, let alone a day in an actual prison. But that’s the key to their dynamic. Unrealistic as it may be, Steve uses all his manipulative skills and wiles to both stay with Phillip and to protect him from the vicissitudes of prison life.

This leads to probably one of the funniest scenes where Steve convinces a con in a neighbouring cell to play a ‘special’ song for the couple, who gets offended when Steven implies he doubts whether the chap will play it the whole way through. When the guards protest, the phrase “Word is bond” is violently put to the test as the chap tries to live up to his word.

It’s a very fleet, thankfully short flick. Much of the flick transpires in jail, but enough of it is set outside so that it’s not too claustrophobic. And it’s not a prison flick, because it’s more about watching a man who can barely contain himself when it comes to scamming and lying. Some of the scams this chap perpetrated, and, eventually, the sheer numbers of escape attempts and manipulations of the legal (and medical system) creating a stunning and breathtaking whole: some strange guys lie, cheat and manipulate their way into becoming billionaires, and other people end up in jail no matter how brilliant they are or hard they try.

I don’t know if I buy Carrey as this character, in that it doesn’t really feel like it’d have much in common with the real story or the actual person he’s playing. The way the character sounds is that he must be one of those larger that life personalities that convinces people of their reality through sheer force of will, or at least someone who’s amoral and bipolar, and it’s a piece of piss for Jim Carrey to play someone like that. In fact, I’m not even sure he plays characters anymore. Maybe people are just following him around with cameras and seeing what crazy shit he’s gets up to.

McGregor, you would think, has the harder role, but he’s plays such an unrealistic character that it’s hard to take him very seriously. And yet, in contrast, he puts in a better performance by recognisably playing an actual character. He’s transformative, even.

Yet it bugged me that out of jail the character basically sits around looking pretty. Surely he did more than just wait for Steven to come home.

Being a film about a scam artist, and a gay scam artist at that, there’s scene after scene of scamming, and gay sex, and more scamming, and more sex, and I have to say I vastly preferred to see the jaunty scams this guy came up with rather than the guy-guy stuff. Vastly preferred one over the other. Yeah, so maybe open-mindedness has its limits. Although, I do appreciate the fact that they didn’t treat it in a token way that cheapened the story or cheapened the flick by making it more homophobic-friendly. Who needs to cater to those fuckwits anyway?

Still, that decision to stay ‘true’ to the story possibly screwed the filmmakers, and punished Carrey, who, I’ve heard rumours, thought this would lead to an Oscar nomination. Talk about delusional.

It still remains an interesting and quirky (and very gay) take on the con artist / Catch Me If You Can kind of flick, replete with a protagonist of unbelievable chutzpah and a shameless land endearing lack of shame. I enjoyed it, for what it’s worth, but I wouldn’t recommend it to your grandmother. No siree bob.

7 times Jim Carrey has always struck me as the kind of person who would fuck anything animal – mineral – vegetable – furniture – Playboy bunny - McGregor out of 10

“Enough romance. Let's fuck!” – nothing wrong with getting to the point – I Love You Phillip Morris