It’s odd that I Love You Phillip Morris is based on the true experiences of con man Steven Jay Russell because if the film has one major flaw it’s how cartoonish and unbelievable some of the events appear on-screen.
As the film opens we are introduced to Steve (Jim Carrey), a respected police officer, with a loving wife (Leslie Mann), and a dark secret – he’s gay. A car crash causes Steve to reexamine his life, come out of the closet and live his life how he’s always wanted – the most stereotypical gay man ever caught on film.
An unforeseen problem arises when his new expensive lifestyle causes Steve to look for alternate sources of income by becoming a professional con man. This new career will eventually land him behind bars.
While in prison Steve meets the naive and trusting Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor). They begin a doomed love affair, both in and out of prison, centered around Steve’s inability to stop lying and Phillip’s blind acceptance of those lies.
As a love story the film works quite well. Although a bit unconventional, and pushed over-the-top for comic effect, the relationship between Steve and Phillip feels real and we’d like to see these two crazy kids make it. But their journey isn’t be an easy one.
The script by John Requa and Glenn Ficarra (adapted from I Love You Phillip Morris: A True Story of Life, Love, and Prison Breaks by Steve McVicker) is very funny and allows Carrey plenty of zany moments to shine. Some are more believable than others, but almost all will earn a chuckle.
The film’s second-half deals mainly with Steve’s various attempts to win Phillip back after his lies come crashing down and land them both back in prison. There is also a dark turn late in the film, foreshadowed by the movie’s opening, that feels a bit out of place (even after the explantion we’re given later).
The film’s message seems to be we are who we are, and even great love doesn’t change that fact. Steve is a con man. He lies to win Phillip’s heart, to keep it, and continues to lie to try and win it back. Love can transform our lives, and give us new appreciation for life and others, but it doesn’t fundamentally change how we interact with the world. That’s a little cynical for a comedic love story, but I Love You Phillip Morris is anything but conventional. I brighter man than I once remarked that all love stories are tragedies. I think the makers of this film would agree.
I Love You Phillip Morris is a good film with some truly great comedic twists. It’s a little uneven for my tastes, but it’s certainly memorable, and it provides the kind of vehicle in which Jim Carrey thrives. And it’s certainly better than the annual glut of braindead romcoms January and February will bring.