I Love You Phillip Morris is so under the radar it almost hurts. It’s a small gem, something unique and special and a film that doesn’t play by the normal rules. This movie sleighed me. The less you know about the real-life antics of Steven Russell and the plot of this darkly hilarious movie the better. This is a film containing constant surprises and frequent twists and turns. You’ll find yourself repeatedly saying “This can’t be true” or “This couldn’t have really happened,” but like the filmmakers state at the front of the film that it did. All of it. And then some (post-movie I read up online about the particulars and there’s even more that was left out of the wildly unpredictable narrative). I Love You Phillip Morris deals with Steven Russell (an amazing Jim Carrey in one of his best performances, if not THE best…), a family man living a secret life as a con-artist. Then, one day, after a life-changing moment, he finally admits to himself that he’s gay. He immediately gets a hunky boyfriend and moves down to Miami Beach, continuing the art of the con, and still maintaining a civil relationship with his wife and kids. Then, he gets pinched after a job goes awry, and he winds up in jail. And that’s when things get really complicated. Steven immediately falls in love with fellow jailbird Phillip Morris (wonderfully played by the always likable Ewan McGregor) and basically makes it his life’s goal to never be separated from him.
That’s all I am going to say. The rest is for you to discover and hopefully fall in love with. What I will allow is that there was a moment where I was in total tears, emotionally crushed by what I was watching, only to have the rug pulled out from under my feet, leaving me in a state of stunned hysterics. The film marked the directorial debut of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, the duo who are best known for writing the black-heartedly brilliant Bad Santa, writing/directing the solid rom-com Crazy Stupid Love, and last year’s Hitch. They are natural born directors, with a quirky-stylish visual sensibility, while also possessing an amazing talent for mixing crude one-liners with believable and earned sentimentality which keeps their work grounded in reality, never pushing it into farce. I Love You Phillip Morris effectively juggles the tricky task of voicing multiple tones throughout the narrative, and while many sequences seem too crazy to be true, there’s always something real and honest about an individual moment or line of dialogue that brings everything back down to reality. It’s a shame that there wasn’t a wider release for this film because it’s so damn good and so surprising and enjoyable that it just goes to show you how pathetically homophobic our society really is. My assumption is that the graphic gay sex scenes/dialogue were a turn off for all of the major Hollywood studios (indie distributor Roadside Attractions handled the movie and Luc Besson’s French company Europa put up most of the production budget) because despite the name cast and accessible genre, nobody in Tinseltown wanted to deal with this film. Pretty bogus if you ask me. I Love You, Phillip Morris is the best movie you haven’t seen.