I Love You Phillip Morris

Confounding viewers' expectations about the genre and tone of the film they are seeing may be a good thing if the director is in control, as is the case of most of David Lynch's films. But it certainly not the case of the new Jim Carrey star vehicle, the raunchy, outrageously gay, darkly humorous "I Love You Phillip Morris."

Trailer: emanuellevy.com/videos/view.cfm?id=280

The movie world-premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Fest (in the Premieres section), and left that event, despite name cast (Ewan McGregor co-stars) and the "shocking" subject of gay romance, without a U.S. distributor.
 
I didn't see the film at Sundance, but caught it at Cannes Festival last month, when it played at the prestigious sidebar, Directors Fortnight, where the reaction to the picture was decidedly mixed-to-negative. 
 
The movie, which had already played in the U.K. and in other European countries, is finally getting a theatrical release in the U.S., nearly two years after its first showing at Sundance. I doubt if many people will see the movie in the theater, though it may develop a larger following on DVD as a curio item, “Jim Carrey’s Gay Movie.”
 
The team of John Requa and Glen Ficarra, who had penned the far more successful and nasty black comedy "Bad Santa," acquit themselves more honorably as writers than directors in their feature debut. The picture is poorly directed, and some scenes are so awkwardly staged (with the cameras at the wrong place) that they call attention to themselves—but for the wrong reason.
 
Requa and Ficarra claim that “I Love You Phillip Morris” is based on a real story that had happened in Texas. “This really happened. It really did,” a title card informs us at the beginning.
Not that it matters. 
 
The tone of this serio-comedy changes from scene to scene and often within the same scene. Part dark comedy, part hilarious tragedy, part caper adventure, part absurdist farce, part prison meller, part gay romance, but not satisfying on any of these levels, "I Love You Phillip Morris" is a confused and confusing picture with high aspirations but poor execution.
 
In what’s one of his more complicated and demanding roles since “The Cable Guy” (still a vastly underestimated gem), Jim Carrey plays a sociopath named Steven Russell, a married gay man who lives a double life. After a car accident, he goes through identity crisis number one (there are several more in the scenario) and decides to come out and tell his wife. Except that one existence based on a pack of lies is substituted with another one based on new set of lies. Going from one extreme to the other, Russell realizes that living a good gay life isn’t cheap and there's a problem of how to earn a living.

Russell's adventures land him in jail, repeatedly, which is not the end of the world, particularly after he meets and falls for Phillip Morris (McGregor), a quiet, educated, sensitive if also naive gay man, who listens carefully to (and perhaps even wants to believe in) Russell's stories, which enable Carrey to display one of his specialty acts, long, twisted monologues that involve his entire body.
 
The writers complicate the scenario by separating the duo through some bizarre circumstances, so that Russell would be able to use ingenious schemes (some legit and others illegit) to reunite with the love of his life Morris, such as escaping from prison in an outrageous disguise.
 
Borrowing from “Sunset Boulevard,” the movie begins with the voice-over narration of a dead man—or almost a dead man, and then proceeds to recount the tale, which unfolds in fits and starts. Indeed, “I Love You Phillip Morris” has several beginnings and several endings.
 
Times have changed and showing onscreen gay sex in a serio or wacky manner is not enough. Nor is its sufficient to cast against type straight actor Carrey as a flamboyant gay guy, though you can't blame the actor for wishing to stretch beyond his established screen persona as a funnyman.
 
European colleagues of mine at Cannes thought that deep down the movie is homophobic, a claim I didn't share. I just thought it's a mediocre picture on any level, thematically and particularly technically and stylistically, an indie which goes out of its way to be lurid, hilarious, and shocking.