By Gregg Goldstein gcgoldstein@yahoo.com

Short Take – I Love You Phillip Morris (views)

There’s nothing that can prepare you for I Love You Phillip Morris, a con-man, gay-romantic, prison-escape, sex-farce comedy-drama (based on an unbelievable true crime story… or was it?) which defies any expectations you bring to it.
First-time writer/directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa are trying for something much more than the bitter satire of their great Bad Santa script. The subject is Steve Russell (Jim Carrey), a married cop who comes out of the closet and into a life of crime-fueled luxury, landing him in prison. There he falls in love at first sight with the shy, blonde title character (Ewan McGregor), but he’s just as in love with con artistry. The result is a series of dizzying twists and turns that would be a crime to spoil.

The film’s tone stays devoted to whatever Carrey’s character wants you to feel (well, most of the time), a dizzying experience that veers from comedy to drama to romance to suspense and many places in between. It’s a daring move to go from prison oral sex jokes to a completely serious, intense romantic scene between two men within minutes of each other. Both would work perfectly on their own terms if viewed as separate clips. Together the effect is disorienting, and surely will alienate even some open-minded viewers, but it’s key to the filmmakers’ audacious agenda.

Some will see lost opportunities for laughs (and rightly so, given the principals’ track records). But others could justifiably argue it would’ve erased some affecting poignancy in key scenes, rare in any romantic drama these days, let alone a gay one with movie stars.
It’s a testament to Carrey’s ability that fears of “can-he-tone-his-shtick-down” don’t haunt the viewer. He segues from characteristically goofy moves to earnest moments that don’t seem as maudlin as he’s been at times. McGregor is as good as ever, completely authentic. You totally buy the passion between them.

Morris cons its audience, but in a good way. We’re its victims, and the strength of its appeal will lie mainly in your ability to sit back, go along for the ride, let where it takes you affect you and not mind the manipulation.

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“Dude, I don’t like the way you talk, bro. How can you tell me that it’s going to be hard? Do you see a lot of people like you writing stories? Give me a break, bro. That’s your strength, that you’re not like us. Go out there and tell your stories. Don’t go out there and try to be like Quentin or me or anybody else. We need you. Tell me what makes you angry, why you’re arrogant, or fearful, whatever it is. Don’t hide anything. Be honest. What is that thing that bothers you and makes you distinct? Everyone’s looking for you. A Mexican point-of-view to tell a story right now? I’m telling you, everybody wants that right now. I desperately need you to tell your story in your way. You are essential.”
~ M. Night Shyamalan

“My films are always brought to life from an idea, a coincidence, or a dreamlike magic. An ephemeral moment that settles in my mind and starts to bloom. The plot slowly appears before my eyes, and there’s nothing left but to write it. I actually do use a mood board. And location scouting is essential to the realization of the film. I’m inspired by architecture — the beauty of certain neighborhoods, the mystery in odd buildings, or streets that suggest psychoanalytic theories. I only choose my actors after I write the script.”
~ Dario Argento