It stars Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor and was directed by the guys who wrote the subversive comedy Bad Santa but I Love You Phillip Morris sat on the shelf for nearly two years before it was launched in US cinemas.
The critics were generally positive – one proclaimed it as Carrey's career-best performance and another hailed it as “outrageously funny” but the romantic comedy based on a true story bombed last December in the US, earning $US2 million.
The movie is finally getting an airing in Australia via Roadshow, opening here on April 7. If you're keen to see it on the big screen, tough luck if you live outside Melbourne: it's booked exclusively at the Cinema Nova. Elsewhere, it'll be a case of waiting for the DVD unless Roadshow decides to release it in other cities.
So what's gone wrong with a movie which scored a healthy 70% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes' critics' poll? I haven't seen it but judging from the reactions of some US reviewers, homophobia may have been a factor.
Carrey plays Steven Russell, a notorious real-life con man who's serving a 144-year sentence in Texas for numerous crimes including multiple prison break-outs. Once a happily married cop with two children, while in jail for credit card and insurance fraud he meets and instantly falls in love with Phillip Morris (McGregor), a bottle-blond convicted of grand theft auto.
After Russell is released he creates a new persona for himself as a lawyer and pulls off a stunt that gets his lover out of prison.
Written and directed by John Requa and Glen Ficara, the movie premiered at the Sundance festival in January 2009. It was turned down by all the major distributors and leading independents. Four months later the obscure Consolidated Pictures Group signed a distribution deal but that fell over and Roadshow Attractions finally acquired the US rights. Launched on six cinemas, the film delivered a decent per screen average of $US18,750 in the opening weekend, broadened to 100 screens but failed to connect with mainstream audiences.
“It's taken almost two years for the bonkers, exhilarating same-sex romantic comedy I Love You Phillip Morris to finally reach theaters,” observed the Village Voice's Melissa Anderson.
“The movie was a near-casualty of nervous-Nellie US distributors—more comfortable with innocuous gay genres like the homosexual weepie or the martyr biopic—and countless release delays.”
Anderson lauded Carrey's performance as the best of his career and argued that the film advances the homosexual agenda without “straight pity, condescension, or self-satisfaction.”
Rolling Stone's usually difficult-to-please critic Peter Travers raved, “It's one crazy love story, but Carrey and McGregor make it work by making us buy the romance as the real thing.”
Similarly, the New York Times' Stephen Holden noted that Carrey had rarely been more charismatic on screen. But in what proved to be a prescient prediction, Holden warned, “The movie is as blunt about the mechanics of gay sex as an episode of South Park and it is likely to meet grass-roots resistance. A star vehicle whose first gay erotic moment shows Mr. Carrey engaged in loud anal sex is asking for trouble.”