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Movie Review: I Love You Phillip Morris

By Philip Martin

This article was published January 14, 2011 at 3:08 a.m.

phillip-morris-ewan-mcgregor-finds-a-special-friend-in-steven-russell-jim-carrey-in-the-comedy-i-love-you-phillip-morris

Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor) finds a special friend in Steven Russell (Jim Carrey) in the comedy I Love You Phillip Morris.

Philip Martin is blogging daily with reviews of movies, TV, music and more at Blood, Dirt & Angels.

— When I was in Paris in March, I Love You Phillip Morris was one of the English language films - the others were Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer and Atom Egoyan’s Chloe - playing in a couple of theaters on the Champs Elysees. I remember thinking that it might be a good idea to catch it, since, given its “controversial” subject matter and history of continually deferred release dates, the movie would likely never show up in American theaters.

So I was surprised when not only was Glenn Ficarra and John Requa’s film given a plum late 2010 release date and the studio even sent out “for your consideration” screener DVDs to critics and Oscar voters. And then the film began to start appearing on some critics’ year-end “best of” lists. I heard a lot of praise for Jim Carrey’s portrayal of the lovestruck (real life) con man Steven Russell, who engineered a series of escalatingly unlikely prison escapes - posing as a prison doctor, a lawyer and even aterminally ill patient - to be reunited with his beloved, the titular Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor).

And so I had some hopes for the film, based on the pedigree of the filmmakers - Ficarra and Requa wrote the Billy Bob Thornton vehicle Bad Santa - and encouraging things I’d read and heard about Carrey’s uncharacteristically restrained and “nuanced” performance.

But then I saw the movie. And it was the same old Jim Carrey - not the Jim Carrey of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Truman Show or even Man on the Moon, but the rubber-faced, mugging Jim Carrey of Me, Myself & Irene. Maybe not turned up to 10, but too manic and elastic for my taste.

But that’s my taste - a lot of people like Jim Carrey in hyperactive mode, just like a lot of people like Robin Williams as a motormouth free association artist. It took me completely out of the movie, it seemed out of key with the other performances (especially McGregor’s sweet and lovely turn as the naive Morris, who, I think I’m required by law to note, is an Arkansas resident) and it seriously compromised any chance I had of actually enjoying what fairness compels me to admit was an otherwise satisfyingly quirky and humane moviethat might even be politically important for the matter-of-fact-way it treats homosexual romance.

While Ficarra and Requa still have to figure out how to pace a movie, they seem to have hit on a style that mixes surreal comedy with heartfelt emotion. The juxtapositions are sometimes jarringly abrupt, but not always ineffective - I like the outre screwball flavor of the piece; it feels a little like Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can crossed with one of John Waters’ gently transgressive cult movies.

In Paris I went to see The Ghost Writer instead, but I’m glad I Love You Phillip Morris made it to American screens.

MovieStyle, Pages 35 on 01/14/2011

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