Monday, April 4, 2011

I Love You Phillip Morris

With star power like Jim Carrey, and Ewan McGregor, incredible dramatic performances, a phenomenal soundtrack, one would think a movie would have a chance of success at the box office. That is until you consider the movie I Love You Phillip Morris. The story starts with Jim Carrey’s character, Steven Russell, playing the organ and getting down during the worship time at church. He meets Debbie, played by Leslie Mann, they fall in love, get married, have a family and spend time praying together prior to extra curricular activities, like sex. Steven eventually starts scamming people via various means after he is involved in an automobile accident. He discovers he is gay, gets involved in various inappropriate activities, is imprisoned, and falls in love with fellow inmate Phillip Morris played by Ewan McGregor, he then spends the rest of his life trying to escape from prison, often times succeeding while going back to his con games. The amazing thing about this unbelievable concept is the story is true.

I Love You Phillip Morris is wonderfully directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa. Unfortunately, due to the difficulty of finding distribution in the United States 4 minutes of the European version has been cut from the film. Some speculate the language, sexual content and homosexual themes were one of the reasons for the reluctance to be picked up for major theatrical release in the United States. For many fans of Jim Carrey, there will be surprises in the role, but for many, the expected negative comments is unfortunate because Carrey gives one of his better performances in a dramatic role. He finds a way to take his comedic genius into its proper place in the brilliance of his performance, from bringing comedy and tears in a single shot; Carrey is a far better actor than many have given credit for. Unfortunately, one of the things I expect is that his performance will overshadow the equally impressive performance of Ewan McGregor. The marvelous editing keeps this thought provoking, surpassingly good film flowing and moving rather quickly.

In the special features Jim Carrey in the making of documentary speaks of how while studying the role, he finds himself changing his impression of the character and film from page to page. What we see is a character and a story that draws in the viewer and is wonderfully written. Ficarra and Requa in their direction help develop the characters all along the way from the start until the completion of the film. As soon as we think we have one of the characters figured out, we realize there are additional, unexpected turns. One of the things that drive the force of story is the ability of Carrey to come in and out of the part of comedian and dramatic actor. McGregor plays his part in a real and respectful way. McGregor also commented that he wanted to make the part of Phillip Morris as real to his nature as possible. It is one of the things that make this one of McGregor’s best and memorable roles.

One of the unfortunate things about this movie is that many will be turned off by the backdrop of the story, the homosexual aspects of the film. It is unfortunate, because as the movie points out, for many individuals who are gay, religion and spirituality is an important part of their lives, and an important part of making them who they are. Unfortunately, for many who are gay, there is often the impression that they are unloved and uncared for. Despite the display of judgment often given, the movie helps illustrate the importance in the search for love and meaning that all individuals have, including those who are gay. For all of the inappropriate aspects of the character of Steven Russell, he is still a character, an individual in search of meaning and love. Steven Russell has a love that is so deep, so passionate that he goes to extraordinary lengths to show his partner that he loves him. Later as the story progresses we also see the realization in his character that all he ever really wanted was to love, and be loved. He also realizes the mistakes and path he has taken could have kept him from fully experiencing a lasting and meaningful loving relationship. I couldn’t help but think of the various scenes in the movie where religion, specifically Christianity, plays such a prominent role, and yet for whatever reason, Russell never felt the love that is supposed to be a key ingredient of Christianity. It is here, that if given the chance, this film could raise appropriate questions for all people, gay and straight, that are the need for each of us to experience love. It is a love that is exhibited in the Christian faith that God loved us while we were yet sinners. He loves us unconditionally, and offers that love as a free gift to all who would receive it. Unfortunately, many followers of Christianity seem to often place conditions on that love that is not displayed in the love offered by Jesus on the cross. Russell has ample opportunities through out the film to come into contact with those who would love him from a Christian view. Fortunately, that love by the characters in the film is not judgmental, it is accepting, and loving, yet the script doesn’t take us in that direction for Russell.

In the area of behavior, don’t take my comments here wrong, there are consequences for inappropriate actions, both in the movie, and in real life, Steven Russell pays the price for his actions. I am not speaking about homosexual actions here; I am speaking specifically of the con man nature displayed for much of his life. While we see an extreme example of someone trying to be someone other than who they really are, for many of us, it seems as if we often go to places to please others which takes us to places beyond who and what we really are and believe. One of the aspects about Russell that we are left wondering about is if he is really happy with the choices he has made.

It is possible, that just as Philadelphia was a life changing role for Tom Hanks, I Love Phillip Morris had the same opportunity for Jim Carrey. It is certainly one of the most challenging roles of his career. The movie is thought provoking, challenging, and yes entertaining. Unfortunately, for many, due to the backdrop of the story and the characters’ sexual orientation and themes, it will also be controversial. That is a shame, especially when presenting a true story where the characters and community it represents deserves entertainment and thought provoking themes. It will be interesting to see the response to the DVD.

I was quite pleased with the special features on the DVD, form the commentary to the making of and various other features, there is enough for an enthusiast like myself to be happy. I was not personally impressed enough with the blu-ray visual quality to justify the blu-ray purchase if given the option. Personally, while a very good, thought provoking movie, I wouldn’t recommend it for purchase, but it is well worth an early check out as a rental.

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