Tuesday, December 14, 2010

CineCaché #6: I Love You Phillip Morris

I would like to open this belated review by saying "see, Ivy, Boston Common does show movies like this!" Because I'm classy.

I Love You Phillip Morris drew a good-sized crowd for last week's CineCaché screening, in part because it had another co-presenter, the Boston LGBT Film Festival, which led to an interestingly skewed take on the movie and discussion afterward. A few folks in the audience had very specific nits to pick - that one particular scene seemed too positive on "barebacking", or that the film was light on how Steven and Phillip falling in love is, shall we say, not exactly representative of the experience most gay men have in prison.

However, another person complained that it made gay people look bad, and I don't think that's really a valid complaint. Part of what I think is kind of remarkable about this movie existing at all is that it's a movie about gay people where their sexuality is a secondary consideration. It would not be that difficult to create a version with Stephanie or Phyllis in one of the two lead roles, although it would not be trivial, either. Even without that consideration, though, the people making the movie clearly looked at it as a mainstream production. Playing Steven Russell isn't Jim Carrey stretching, it's him doing what he does best.

I Love You Phillip Morris

* * * (out of four)
Seen 6 December 2010 at the Brattle Theatre (CineCaché)

I Love You Phillip Morris opens with a playful variant on the standard disclaimer, something along the lines of "This all happened. It really did!" It's the sort of movie that might get dismissed as ridiculous or improbable otherwise, although it's arguably not really necessary - it works just fine as an crazy love story, albeit with the emphasis on the crazy.

Steven Russell (Jim Carrey) was living a pleasant life in a Georgia beach community - he was a respected member of the local police department with a sweet wife (Leslie Mann) and daughter - until a brush with death makes him decide to stop lying. Sorry, dear, I'm not actually working late those nights I'm out past midnight; I'm sleeping with men. The trouble with coming out is that the gay lifestyle he imagines is pretty expensive, and his con artistry gets him sent to prison. Still, he's soon got the place wired, and it lets him meet Phillip (Eewan McGregor), and love blooms in that improbably place. They stick together when they get out, but Steven almost can't help himself, leading to a series of scams, sentences, and escapes.

Every once in a while, an actor gets a role that is uniquely suited to him, not necessarily because of physical resemblance or passion for the topic, but because the audience never loses sight of who is playing the character. Despite having a rough few years, Jim Carrey is still a movie star, and the fact that we know his shtick actually makes him more effective in a part like this. Carrey does broad comedy, hamming it up when other actors might dial it back, and because of that, Steven's often-ridiculous behavior and success gets past our objections. Because the end results are zany and always seem about to career out of control, it's easy to forget that they don't - each eye-roll and elongated syllable is chosen for maximum humorous impact, and that sort of control goes into the more dramatic moments, too - Carrey can take a moment, pull back, and show a certain amount of love and hurt behind the zaniness and lying.

Full review at EFC.

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