Note: as part of Throwback Thursday, I’m posting this piece I wrote June 28, 2011, for my LiveJournal blog. I am planning to slowly move over anything of substance from LiveJournal to this one, with plans on turning the LiveJournal into something else.
I Love You, Phillip Morris, written and directed by John Requa and Glenn Ficarra, based on the book by Steve McVicker. Copyright 2010. Buy at Amazon.com.
We’ve come a long way from Philadelphia.
I admit: I love gay romances partly because it’s a bit of a kink to see two hot guys going at it. There’s a stereotype of a heterosexual man’s biggest fantasy being two women together. It’s not only in porn, but seen in regular ‘bromance’ movies as well. But if a woman admits that yes, Pirates of the Caribbean was enjoyable partly because of the chemistry between Orlando Bloom and Johnny Depp, it’s considered unusual.
The gay movies that are out there typically tend to fall into three categories: the Philadelphia and Milk type, serious dramas about AIDS or homophobia; the The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (or, if you prefer, To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar) and The Birdcage type, comedies about cross-dressing queens that only sexualize the gays for the humor; or the In and Out coming out stories.
I can count on one hand movies I know (and that are actually any good) that are about two people in love who happen to be gay. (Trick, All Over the Guy, Jeffrey – although that does get the AIDS subplot, The Broken Hearts Club, Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss – Threesome and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang can be added as honorable mentions.) So, when I heard about the plot of I Love You, Phillip Morris (whereby Steven Russell becomes a con artist after coming out, landing in jail where he meets his one true love), I was both eager and nervous to see it.
I am a sometime fan of Jim Carrey (who plays Russell) – when he’s good (The Truman Show, The Majestic, Man on the Moon, and even The Mask), he’s very good. But when he’s not …. And I was worried about what he’d do to this part.
Meanwhile, Ewan McGregor (who is the Phillip Morris of the title) was the big draw. The man exudes sexuality, so much so that even the guys want him. (My favorite description of McGregor I ever came across was something along the lines of that you could cast him against a washrag and he’d still flirt outrageously with it.)
But I was afraid of the I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry problem – the comedy coming from the stereotypes of what it means to be gay (and that straight men are a particular type of personality), without one decent M/M kiss.
As the movie opened, my fear grew. We got the married home life of Russell, including a dry love scene with his wife. I was halfway in the middle of a ‘we better get a kiss between our two leads’ rant when we find out Russell is gay – as we’re shown a scene of him in mid-coitus.
And yes, we do get a bit of a stereotype when Russell decides, because of a near-fatal car crash, that he is tired of being in the closet – but the laughs come from his desire to identify himself as gay with such stereotypes.
The whole character is the very definition of refuge in audacity – the only reason he gets away with half the stuff he does is because it’s so far out there (my favorite escape attempt: walking out with a radio dressed in hooker ware – the guards just see the radio and mutters, “Vice squad”). It’s more like he’s a child, testing his boundaries as to what he can and can’t do. It’s that outrageousness that makes Carrey perfect for the part: he succeeds when playing these types of roles, and he’s obviously having so much fun!
I’m not sure if it’s the outrageousness of the various plot points, Carrey’s interpretation, or if it was because for the most part Russell’s cons are portrayed as harmless and all for love, but I couldn’t help but love this guy and root for him.
McGregor does a great job (although his Arkansas accent – while done well – takes a bit to get used to, especially if you’ve ever heard his real accent) as Morris, a sweet, innocent man who has the bad luck to fall for Russell. And his eyes should be registered as a lethal weapon, both for the puppy dog looks he gives when he’s trying to get Russell’s attention and for the 100-yard ‘mother stare’ he gives when he realizes Russell isn’t necessarily telling him the truth on something (or multiple somethings).
And therein lies the heart (pun intended) of the movie. The relationship between Russell and Morris becomes the crux of both the drama and the comedy of the movie (the scene where they dance to Johnny Mathis’s “Chances Are” made me actually glad I hadn’t seen it in a movie theatre, as I was laughing so hard I had to pause it to catch my breath). Russell does all that he does out of love for Morris, and it just so happens that Morris is a man. (Yes, we do get some awesome kissing between our two leads, each kiss sweetly romantic and the type that makes you wish you were getting them, too.) You get the feeling that had Russell been straight and felt the way about his wife that he did about Morris, the cons would’ve still happened. (In fact, he keeps regular contact with his wife – who by the middle of the movie is blasé about his running from the law – and his daughter.)
I Love You, Phillip Morris is a romantic comedy turned up to 11, and I look forward to adding it to my DVD shelves one of these days. If you’re looking for a gay old time, check this movie out: you won’t be conned.