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film review: I Love You, Phillip Morris

by Leonard Maltin
December 3, 2010 5:30 AM
5 Comments
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Jim Carrey is a talented man but, like other performers whose gifts are wide-ranging and difficult to pigeonhole, he needs good material and a guiding hand. He has found both in I Love You, Phillip Morris. In fact, I think he gives the best performance of his career in this provocative and unusual film from writer-directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, who are best remembered for writing Bad Santa. This movie isn’t likely to win over too many of Carrey’s mainstream-comedy fans, or fundamentalists who don’t heed the R rating, but I think it’s a first-rate piece of work.

Carrey plays a Southerner who marries his churchgoing sweetheart (Leslie Mann), then finally reconciles with the reality that he’s gay. In an effort to support a new, extravagant lifestyle he summons his latent gift—

—for larceny and becomes a skilled con artist. Eventually this lands him in prison, where he falls in love with a fellow inmate named Phillip Morris (played by the always-watchable Ewan McGregor). Their destinies merge, but the road of life has many speed bumps and detours in store.

I have skimmed over the details of plot because I don’t want to give away more than I should. I Love You, Phillip Morris is a film that offers surprises and rewards at every turn—but makes some of those turns, from poignant drama to absurdist comedy, when you least expect them.

McGregor underplays the title character, while Carrey goes to town as a man who assumes many identities over the course of the story. Learning that these characters actually exist, and that Ficarra and Requa based their screenplay on Steve McVicker’s book about their escapades, only makes the film more impressive. One would never suspect that this marks the writing duo’s directing debut. They manage to pull off one of the most difficult tasks in moviemaking: establishing a tone for their picture, then daring to change it, more than once.

I don’t know if anyone is beating the drums for Jim Carrey to be considered for an Academy Award, but I was mightily impressed with his performance here. While there are glimpses of the wacky, physically agile clown we all know, they are absorbed into the character he’s playing, and he handles the serious, heartfelt scenes with equal proficiency. If that isn’t great acting, I don’t know what is.

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5 Comments

  • Jason | April 6, 2011 5:14 AMReply

    This really was a good film. I hope more people get to see it

  • Selah | April 1, 2011 8:53 AMReply

    I love Ewan McGregor...and find him always watchable. He is what will draw me to this film, and if Jim Carey and the story line intriguing..all the better.

  • Dave | April 1, 2011 1:59 AMReply

    The fact that you called Ewan McGregor "always watchable" eliminates all credibility in this otherwise decent review. He nearly ruined this otherwise great movie, luckily the other talent demonstrated throughout the film was enough to pull his tattered performance out of the gutter.

  • Michael Offerosky | January 16, 2011 8:21 AMReply

    I have been recommending this film to nearly everyone I've been able to. Not everyone is loving this but it did make my year end best of list (http://www.examiner.com/movie-in-milwaukee/best-films-of-2010). As I left the press screening, I loved this film. I talked to someone else from the local press who was not as impressed by this as I was. I thought it was daring and original. I also appreciated the tone changes because it keeps the audience on their toes. If it went on too long in any certain direction it could have gotten predictable. I thought it was an honest and sweet portrayal of a gay relationship. McGregor was great too but wasn't as given as much to do as the object of Carrey's affection. This was a very sweetly affecting comedy-drama that deserves an audience.

  • Bridget Deal | January 10, 2011 2:23 AMReply

    I ll be honest before this film i was not a huge Jim Carrey fan. Growing up i saw one to many of his films and grew tired of his silly gestures and predictable movements. But his performance in this film blew me away. I love it when a comedy actor takes a serious role (Adam Sandler in punk drunk love, and Will Ferrel in stranger then fiction) because it proves that they are more talented then we were led on to believe (not saying Jim Carey wasn't talented). But the film was unlike anything i would have thought he would have taken on. The story was well put together and the emotional scenes had me in tears. It was funny when necessary and the film kept the audience interested in these two very complex characters. Also Ewan McGregor did an excellent job as Carrey's inmate boyfriend. I would agree this was the performance of Jim Carreys career.

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