Directed by Glenn Ficarra
Executive Producer, Luc Besson (EuropaCorp)
With Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor
What do you mean, it’s going straight to DVD?
It’s actually a wonder that this movie can be found on a big screen at all these days, as an “intriguing” series of events has hindered distribution since its scheduled opening early last year.
I Love You Philip Morris was made in 2009 but has had every difficulty finding distribution in the U.S. Its release was first scheduled for February 2010, then was delayed several times due to legal issues between the distributors and the producers. Finally Roadside Attractions (who has Biutiful and Winter’s Bone) picked it up, mostly in the hope of getting Oscar nods, which it didn’t. Today, its longevity in movie theaters seems fragile at best.
The soundtrack starts with To Love Somebody, and goes on with other heartstring tuggers like Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen, Steal Away, Faking Death, and The Marriage of Figaro, which accompany the antics of con man, Steven Russell (played admirably by Jim Carrey). Russell struggles his entire life with identity, is motivated by a need to succeed at any cost, becomes a con artist, ends up in jail and escapes several times, and finally finds the love of his life for whom he will do just about anything. It’s based on a true story, by the way, and is reminiscent of Catch Me If You Can (2002) with Leonardo Di Caprio who plays real-life con man Frank Abagnale Jr.
So it’s a love story, and quite conventional at that. Trouble is, Steven’s lover is a sweetheart named Philip Morris, a frail and gentle man played marvelously by Ewan McGregor. Steven vows to protect Philip and make him happy for the rest of his life.
Indeed, had Steven’s lover been played by Reese Witherspoon, the movie would have been seen by millions across the United States and would likely have received Oscar nominations if only for Carrey’s performance, seen by many as his career best. And Ewan McGregor is sooo sweet, we ALL fall in love with Philip Morris.
It’s a shameful pity that this film should slide so far under the radar. Philip Morris is a beautiful movie carried by two sublime actors who render respectful, passionate performances quite worthy of the King’s Speech duo, Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush. Really.
As in the scene when Philip runs across the prison yard (where he never goes because “How do you think a blond and blue-eyed queer like me is going to fare out there?”…) and yells through the barbed wire fence a hysterical and unabashed “I love you Steven!” in front of all the inmates. Or when Philip learns that Steven is dying, and all past grievances dissipate as the devastation passes across his face. Or when Steven looks Philip straight in the eye and lies about his latest fraudulent scheme…
Jim Carrey’s elastic facial gymnastics (flashback to The Mask) are a distant memory as he delivers here a very bright, resourceful character consumed by the urge to become someone else as though to erase some indelible sense of failure brought on in childhood when he learned he was adopted. Carrey slips stealthily from Steven’s multiple straight, corporate personas back to his gay swagger without a hitch.
That distributors may be wary of signing such a movie because love between men is expressed most of the time through, well, fellatio, is a crying shame. If it’s about that, the history of Hollywood double standards sadly brings to mind a particularly explicit scene in Monster’s Ball, a movie for which Halle Berry won an Oscar for Best Actress…
The human experience of devotion and love transcends gender. For that reason alone, this film is important, because it’s not about gays or about sex, it’s about love. Just as the 2009 masterpiece A Single Man depicting the grief of a college professor after the loss of his lover was a deeply moving tribute to the reality that gay relationships can also be serious and meaningful (Colin Firth earned a first Oscar nomination for that performance), so also Philip Morris is an ode to enduring and sometimes crazed commitment to other human beings.