Gay love and lies

I Love You Philip Morris (MA). Directors: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa. Starring: Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor, Leslie Mann. 98 minutes

Nick Urata, a key member of Denver indie rock group DeVotchKa, provides the theme tune, 'Faking Death', to this bizarre and incredible based-on-fact comedy. Theremin, violin and whistling provide the vehicle for a repeated 12-bar melody to sail across layers of strummed guitars and staccato percussion. The tune simultaneously evokes both romantic island fantasies and the vast prairies of spaghetti westerns. Deranged, yes, but also sweet. In this, it perfectly captures the film's essence.

(Continues below)

Jim Carrey is Steven Russell, a flamboyant gay Texan who becomes a compulsive conman in order to fund his extravagant lifestyle. Eventually his frauds land him in prison, where he finds a new object for his hyperactive obsessions. Fresh-faced fellow inmate Philip Morris (McGregor) has been locked up for a nondescript crime. The two men are immediately infatuated, and enjoy a sweet prison romance. When Steven is transferred, he'll do whatever it takes to get back to his would-be soulmate.

When they are finally reunited as free men, Steven finds it all too easy to fall back into the patterns that first landed him in prison. He wants to build an extravagant life for himself and Philip, and the film details the ingenious and obsessive deceptions he applies in order to defraud a wealthy company that employs him. But he's lying to Philip, too, who knows that criminal activity is the surest way to ensure that they will eventually be separated again.

I Love You Philip Morris frequently juxtaposes sweetness and darkness. During the early stages of Steven and Philip's affair, Philip pays a rough inmate in an adjoining cell to play a romantic song on his tape recorder. Philip and Steven slow-dance, and continue even when sounds of violence emerge from next door, as prison guards arrive and beat the prisoner for playing music after lights out.

A similar juxtaposition is evident in Steven himself. We learn that he was adopted as a child, and carries a deep sense of rejection from that time. His extravagance and the criminal activity that funds it can be taken as an attempt, driven by fear of further rejection, to buy affection and commitment from the man he loves. He's no victim, but he's certainly damaged. We can feel sympathy for him.

Often, the juxtapositions equate to a sense of amusing irreverence. But screenwriters and first-time directors Ficarra and Requa have also created a slightly uneven tone, with slapstick comedy (keyed to Carrey's flailing, face-flexing talents) clashing at times with the film's more serious, dramatic aspects.

The pacing, too, is uneven. The film lingers too long on Steven's life prior to 'coming out', as an ostensibly conservative Texan cop, church organist, husband (Mann is amusing as his surprisingly understanding wife) and father. Still, this section indicates that Steven has long been in the habit of creating elaborate personae in order to meet social expectations. It's no longer a habit. It's inate.

Despite such flaws the film is anchored by the undeniably sweet romance at its heart. Carrey and McGregor share a warm chemistry, and Carrey, in one of the best performances of his career, perfectly sets Steven's passion and intensity against McGregor's fine portrayal of Philip's vulnerability.


Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street. He is a contributor to Kidzone, Inside Film and The Big Issue, and his articles and reviews have appeared in Melbourne's The Age and Brisbane's Courier-Mail. Follow Tim on Twitter

Topic tags: I Love You Philip Morris, Glenn Ficarra, John Requa, Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor, Leslie Mann, gay, conman

 

 

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