Steven Russell (Jim Carrey), a married father whose exploits landed him in the Texas criminal justice system, falls madly in love with his cellmate, Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor).
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the best movie showing in Australian cinemas right now is a two year-old, homosexually-graphic, true-life love story about one of America’s greatest conman starring the 'Ace Ventura Pet Detective’ giving the performance of the year. Phew...
The duo that wrote Terry Zwigoff’s similarly wicked and utterly brilliant Bad Santa (2003) have taken the life and crimes of gay white-collar felon Steven Russell and his life (sentence) partner Phillip Morris and created one of modern cinema’s most moving love stories. Oh sure, it contains a couple of sweaty man-on-man scenes, some shocking prison violence and a lead character who fakes AIDS to escape prison life (among lots of other wildly imaginative schemes). But truth be told, no film has conveyed true love quite as convincingly in a very long time.
Steven is played by Jim Carrey, who takes his 'frantically lovable’ archetype he has called his own for nearly 20 years into a unique and supremely subversive place. Picture his iconic Dumb and Dumber character Lloyd Christmas over-injecting stolen insulin into himself to escape custody and you get some idea as to the 'f*** you all!" departure this represents for Carrey and his fans.
Yet, incredibly, Jim Carrey’s performance centres the emotional core of the film. From the moment he feels existential rejection for the second time from his birth mother (he takes her front-door welcome-mat because 'It’s a lie!"), the audience is onside with his plight; when he first glimpses Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor, supplying one the great romantic and comedic foils), there is no doubt that Carrey’s Steven is feeling the deepest of bonds, despite living a life of complete deception.
Co-directors/writers Glenn Ficarra and John Requa get the character drama so right, it’s a revelation; that they also hit every necessary, darkly-tinted narrative beat so energetically suggests that these two talents are emerging as Hollywood’s most exciting creative team. (My anticipation of their next effort, the Steve Carell/Ryan Gosling film Crazy, Stupid, Love, just shot upwards.)
It’s a disgrace that few will get to see this film. European audiences embraced it, but it was buried in the US (its total box office was US$2million) and has only played film festival engagements and single-screen seasons in Sydney and Melbourne. It would have been a tough sell, but local distributor Village Roadshow should have given the film and local audiences more respect. It is a terrible shame that one of the year’s best movies will only find adoration amongst the more adventurous video-store patrons in the months ahead. I Love You Phillip Morris will have to earn the following coming its way, but a willing and passionate cult will form, of that I am certain.