“I Love You Phillip Morris” cheats you. Often. There will often times be a build-up emotionally, only for the movie to show you that it just screwed you over with a smile on it’s face. It takes after its main character that way; the con-man Steven Russell (played by Jim Carrey). Russell lives a flamboyantly gay lifestyle, pulling off numerous frauds and con-jobs to cover his endless spending. These eventually land him in jail, where he meets a man by the name of Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor). It’s pretty much love at first sight for these two, and the movie covers the span of about 15 years as Steven & Phillip struggle to stay together (seeing as Russell keeps landing back in jail for his illegal activities to support them as a couple).
Dark as this may seem, the oddest thing about “I Love You Phillip Morris” is how it can deliver a scene that both breaks your heart and makes you laugh out loud. We laugh because, at face value, it’s traditional Jim Carrey-shtick, but we feel sadness because he’s doing all this to pursue a love that he refuses to accept just cannot work out.
It’s the weird balance between the hilarious and the heartbreaking where “Phillip Morris” gains its personality and in my opinion, its greatness. All of this is held up by Jim Carrey, in a (predictably) high-energy yet mature, fleshed-out performance. For every little joke or stunt his character Russell will pull, there will be a moment where you can’t help but pity this often really clueless character. He does a hard job, in making us sympathize with and understand a criminal. It’s great work, what he does here.
Ewan McGregor has some fantastic moments as the title character, Phillip Morris. But what I didn’t expect? That Carrey and McGregor, two straight male actors, honestly have a fantastic on-screen chemistry together, which is important considering the entire movie is about the dynamic between these two actors. I’d go so far as to say they click together better than most heterosexual couples I’ve seen on-screen in a while.
The writing here is also definitely worth noting. “Bad Santa” writers Glenn Ficarro and John Requa are the writer-directors here, and just like that past effort they write great, snappy dialogue. It grants all the characters really funny things to say, but grounds it in reality so that the laughs don’t come at the expense of our respect for these people.
If there’s a fault with “Phillip Morris”, it’s laid out in the first sentence of this review: The movie constantly one-ups us with new knowledge or developments. This is often times charming and entertaining, but sometimes comes off a bit too strong in moments where restraint would have worked best.
But overall, how can I complain? “Phillip Morris” is a great little slice of entertainment that juggles elements of comedy, crime and romance in a breezy, fun and occasionally heartbreaking way. I’ll just say this movie made me smile, and leave it at that. You take it from here. A-