Another Liar Liar
"I Love You Phillip Morris" is an extraordinary movie, then the central character of Steven Russell is really quite an extraordinary person, a master conman. If you've never heard of Steven Russell I suggest watch and be entertained by "I Love You Phillip Morris" which is part based on his story, be gob smacked by the outrageousness of his cons, scams and escapes he pulled off and then go and find the facts on him and be even more gob smacked. But the thing is that Russell's story is so extraordinary and so outrageous that to do it as a straight drama wouldn't work it would be too unbelievable. So here we have a comedy, one which to some will be offensive because of its use of gay stereotypes but at the same time delivers the outrageousness of his cons, the love story of his connection to inmate Phillip Morris, some surprising moments of drama and for those who are not offended some gay stereotype humour.
Steve Russell (Jim Carrey - Yes Man) was happily married and a father, he played organ at church and was a policeman although he was a policeman because ever since he learned as a child he was adopted he wanted to find the truth about his real mum. His attempt to meet her starts a chain of events, coming out as a gay man, pulling cons to afford his gay lifestyle and ending up in prison. In fact ending up in and out of prison as he becomes a master conman who whilst doing time meets Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor - Miss Potter) and falls in love with him.
Being in the UK I remember when "I Love You Phillip Morris" came out and it was advertised as a gay romantic comedy with little reference to the fact that Steven Russell was a notorious conman. Now I can see why they did this because whilst Steven Russell was news in America I don't remember him ever being news this side of the water and to market it as being about a gay conman probably wouldn't work. But then that is what it is about and it is a curious movie because we have this mixture of comedy and drama as Russell's outrageous cons form the basis of the story.
So to try and make sense of this it is worth knowing that whilst based on Steven Russell there is some, maybe a fair bit of poetic licence used in turning his story into a movie. But you can split it up into parts and the first part which sees Steven coming out is where some will be instantly offended because we have gay stereotype humour going on. When we watch Steven bemoan being gay as being expensive it is a scene dripping in camp stereotyping which to me fitted with the outrageous nature of the movie, as in being over the top. But at the same time I wonder how it would have been if the campness had been turned down a bit and gone for more originality.
Anyway this comical and snappy opening which introduces us to Steven being gay and a conman also leads us to him being in prison and meeting Phillip Morris. Now whilst we still have plenty of camp humour going on we also have a love story presenting itself as we watch Steven and Phillip fall in love. Surprisingly this quite effective because for all the camp humour and cock sucking jokes the sense that Steven loved Phillip and Phillip loved Steven actually feels very real. It may be helped by Ewan McGregor playing Phillip as very different to Steven making him effeminate and sensitive but not over the top which makes it feel more believable.
But this is where "I Love You Phillip Morris" becomes outrageous because whilst early on we witness some of Steven's scams such as faking accidents watching the scams he pulls off whilst in prison to get out and outside to lead a comfortable life are gob smacking. To give you a little idea of some of the scams, he faked it as a lawyer, pretended to be a judge and made phoney calls, dyed clothes green from in his cell to walk out masquerading as a doctor and so much more. And trust me if you don't know how outrageous Steven Russell's scams got you are in for one hell of a surprise. But whilst these outrageous cons and frauds deliver plenty of humour you also get a huge dose of drama, drama which will touch you in a way you least expect.
That brings me to Jim Carrey who is perfect for the role of Steven Russell as he not only delivers comedy but also the outrageousness of a man capable of coming up with the craziness of cons. The comedic way Carrey brings the various cons to life is so entertaining and you sort of fall in love with this audacious con artist. But at the same time we also get the deeper element, we get to see that after a life of living lies Steven no longer knows who he is and whether or not anyone can trust him, even those he loves. And talking of love Carrey also gets across that sense of love for Phillip that he would do anything for him. For me this is Carrey's finest performance since he played Andy Kaufmann in "Man on the Moon" another character which allowed him to deliver both drama and comedy.
What this all boils down to is that "I Love You Phillip Morris" is an outrageous mix of comedy and drama which in many way is fitting for the life of con artist Steven Russell. It won't be everyone's cup of tea especially with gay stereotype comedy but it is worth watching to see how good Jim Carrey is when he has a real character to get stuck into.