Written & Directed by Glenn Ficarra & John Requa
“This really happened. It really did.” These are the first words communicated to us by the directors of the film. It may seem unnecessary for such a disclaimer for most movies. We go to movies, or at least I do, to be entertained and I do not care how much of a story is true or if it’s based on a true story, or if it is a completely made up, unbelievable, over-the-top story. If I want true stories, I’ll read the newspaper, or perhaps a non-fiction book. Film is merely an adaptation of truth. But in the case of I Love You Phillip Morris, the story really is that far-fetched that I, and obviously the directors as well, deem it necessary to begin the film with such a disclaimer because if only 5% of what happened in the film happened with 5% of truth to it, then I cannot believe I am living on the same planet as these characters.
The wild ride follows Steven Russell, played by Jim Carrey. Russell is a family man and a law man. He uses his powers as a police officer to find his biological mother who put him up for adoption. When he confronts her and she rejects him once more, Steven comes to the realization that he is a homosexual, despite being happily married with two beautiful children. But when he comes to this realization, he begins to live his life the way he wants to, which basically means blatant disregard for any kind of rules. He gets arrested and imprisoned and escapes. He meets the love of his life, Phillip Morris, played by Ewan McGregor, while in prison, and then escapes again. And then he begins to fake being a lawyer and fake being a CFO, if that is at all possible, and becomes filthy rich off of the many scams he is able to run. Then he is arrested again, and continues escaping and conning the world around him. It is truly one of the most bizarre stories I have ever heard.
But what seems to make the film work as well as it does is Jim Carrey in the lead role. Steven Russell is clearly demented and many might use that same word to describe Carrey. In addition to his great physical humor, which flirts with the over-the-top line here, yet manages to dial it down at the right moments, Carrey brings to the table the capability to be a dramatic actor. Coupled with Ewan McGregor here, the two are able to make a strange relationship believable. The film has plenty of laughs throughout and takes its time showing us the ridiculous antics of Russell, but ample time is also spent creating an emotional connection to the relationship between the two leads.
The romantic comedy is a favorite genre of many people, and I too love watching these types of films, but never have I seen one that is quite like this. Because it is about a gay couple it is different, but that is not the main thing that sets this one apart. No, what sets it apart is the fact that it is also a con man movie. It is a chase movie. Russell is some kind of mad genius capable of being a successful lawyer and a successful CFO all the while having absolutely no qualifications to do either. It is fascinating to see his story unfold, and equally fascinating to see him seemingly throw away his successes just to be with his love, Phillip Morris. As mentioned before, this was based on a true life story. Movies dramatize the heck out of things and I can only assume as much here. But that being said, when was the last time you heard about that guy who was married with children who became gay, starting committing various crimes, landed himself in jail, met the love of his life, escaped, became a successful con man, went back to jail, escaped again, was arrested again, and then wrote a book about his story that was turned into a movie. All right, well there was that one guy. And his name was Steven Russell. And you know what, his story did end up making a pretty enjoyable movie.