Jacob Latimore, Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett star in director Kasi Lemmons' seasonal drama.
On Film4: 17 Dec 11:00AM
Jim Carrey plays Steven Russell, in the true story of a conman who lands in jail and falls in love with Ewan McGregor's Phillip Morris.
I Love You Phillip Morris is based on a true story, which is a good thing because it would get panned for being improbable were it not. Our hero is Steven Russell, a charismatic and exuberant fellow who goes from leading pillar of his small-town community to flamboyant gay urbanite, then from convicted felon to committed romantic. It's the comic role of a lifetime for Jim Carrey, who apparently worked for union rates in order to help the film get made.
Steven's key character trait is that when he does something, whatever it is, he does it to the upper limit of what is conceptually possible. He's not just a regular wholesome family man - he's a wholesome family man who plays organ at the church, celebrates good news with a nice glass of healthy milk and prays to his god nightly with his blonde haired blue-eyed devout wife. Likewise, when he decides to come out as gay, he must embody the epitome of what he imagines a gay lifestyle to be: vacations in the Florida Keys, a Miami Beach tan, a Latino boyfriend who also has a Miami Beach tan, plenty of blinged up his-and-his jewellery, chichi nightspots, two miniature dogs and the tightest trousers this side of the tour de France. "Being gay is really expensive," he ponders aloud.
This extravagant lifestyle leads Steven to a life of scamming which leads swiftly to jail, where he meets the love of his life, the Phillip Morris of the title, a ludicrously sweet and naive boy played with every ounce of winsome charm Ewan McGregor is capable of summoning. The pair have a weirdly believable, natural chemistry, despite their larger than life roles and the fact that to date it's probably not the case that any of us have spent much time sighing, "Oh, you know who would make an adorable screen couple? Ace Ventura and Renton from Trainspotting."
Like many of the best confidence tricksters, Steven survives by going the extra mile, doing whatever nobody could possibly believe someone would attempt to bluff their way through. You'll find yourself willing him to succeed in his swindles, which due to the insanely subjective viewpoint the film invites, appear to be victimless crimes. Although the real Steven Russell apparently has an IQ of 169, it's less his intelligence than his audacity that carries him through a series of unlikely victories and inevitable defeats - and audacity is a quality well-suited to good cinema.
Deserves to be a huge hit - not to prove a point to studio execs who are still scared of gay heroes - but because it's a funny, original film.
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