Sunday, January 02, 2011

I Love You Phillip Morris

Today I saw I Love You Phillip Morris, starring Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor.

Truth will always be stranger than fiction, and that's certainly the case in the story of Steven Russell, the man on which this film is based.

Russell (Carrey) had a normal upbringing (with the exception of finding out he was adopted), which led to a normal adulthood that saw him become a respected husband, father and cop.

His wife Debbie (Leslie Mann) was a Jesus-loving goody-two-shoes who only wanted the best for everyone. She was clueless to the double-life Steven was living as a gay man and shocked when she found out about it after he was in a car accident. His "epiphany" to tell the *cough* truth.

Russell moved to Florida, got a boyfriend and began living the high life. The problem was, he couldn't afford the lifestyle he desired, so he began devising cons to pay his way. Eventually the cons caught up with him and he landed in prison, where he met (maybe) the love-of-his-life, Phillip Morris (McGregor). Steven immediately falls for Phillip and eventually gets them both out of prison to live their dream life together, but can't seem to stop the deception. This, of course, causes problems.

The story itself is completely true and undeniably fascinating; the movie has its moments.

Though warned by one of my show's listeners that it was awful, I forged on determined to give it a chance, but I can't deny I was truly let down.

Jim Carrey's portrayal of Russell has too much In Living Color Jim Carrey and not enough Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Jim Carrey.

Though the real con man is arguably an exaggerated personality, the mannerisms in which Carrey represents him don't for a minute ring true. There's posing and hanging on words and extended glances. There's an ease to the vocal impersonations that can't possibly have been as natural for Russell as they were for Carrey.

I'm not sure it's the actor's fault—perhaps the director encouraged him to go full out—but whomever's decision it was made the wrong one.

Ewan McGregor, on the other hand, was pitch perfect. His naive, sweet Morris is just how the real gentleman is said to behave and not for an instant did I doubt he was in love with Russell. And that's not an easy set of emotions to convey.

Anyone who has fallen for a liar knows that it is the most painful relationship you'll ever endure. First, they convince you better than anyone that you are worthy of being loved in the highest regard, then when you catch on that most of what comes out of their mouth is false, you doubt that any of your previous time together was real. It's excruciating (trust me, I've been there) and often even the liar doesn't realize how much damage their doing to the other person because they only know what the easy way out is, and that's usually not the side of things that confronts devastating pain.

McGregor nails these conflicted feelings with expressions and body language that bear his scars.

Leslie Mann is a delight as the devout Debbie, and each time she would appear on-screen I would wish that her scenes lasted longer.

It's just that the film focused too long on spotlighting the comical side of Carrey and never addressed the weight of what really became of these folks (Russell's sentence is one of the most severe in Texas, though he never physically hurt anyone; Morris and Mrs. Russell's lives will never be the same).

I'd have rather seen a documentary.


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