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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“I am just grateful I am still around. I would love to be Steven Soderbergh, but I am lucky to be Joe Swanberg. Actors want to work with me, people want to give me money, and my nightmare scenario remains: Getting in bed with a studio, spending years on a movie, and it turns out horrible, but now I’m rich.”

Actually, by Hollywood standards, you’re right, I said. That is unambitious.

“It is, and yet, if you can go to bed happy at night, doing what you want, isn’t that ambition for a lifetime?”
~ Swanberg On Swanberg By Borelli

“In retrospect, nothing of that kind surprised me about Philip, because his intuition was luminous from the instant you met him. So was his intelligence. A lot of actors act intelligent, but Philip was the real thing: a shining, artistic polymath with an intelligence that came at you like a pair of headlights and enveloped you from the moment he grabbed your hand, put a huge arm round your neck and shoved a cheek against yours; or if the mood took him, hugged you to him like a big, pudgy schoolboy, then stood and beamed at you while he took stock of the effect.”
John le Carré on Philip Seymour Hoffman