Movie Review: I Love You, Philip Morris

Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor go gay in a very funny - if very unusual - true-life tale

Cert: 15, 1hr 40 mins
Starring: Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor

When promoting I Love You, Philip Morris at the Sundance Film Festival last year, Jim Carrey was keen to point out that the film – one of the festival’s biggest hits – wasn’t a “gay movie”.
“I don’t think it’s a gay movie,” he said of the true story of cop-turned-conman-turned-corporate-embezzler Steven Russell, who finds himself perpetually breaking out of prison in order to be with his true love, Philip Morris.

“It’s a movie about humanity. It’s a movie about the perspective of my character. About the lengths we go to for acceptance and love.”

Of course, this was only slightly undermined by the fact he was speaking in a gay bar at the time – where the press conference was held.

So yes, of course it’s a gay film. They’re both gay, and the film doesn’t shy away from that (though, notably, we only see them kissing in silhouette – they could both have “gay double” shadow puppets for all we know). But Carrey had a point: it’s also incidental. Philip Morris could have been Pippa Morris – it wouldn’t change a thing.

And it’d be sad indeed if it was adversely affected by prejudice of any sort. Because gay or straight, bi or Conservative MP, some things are universal. Funny is funny. Part Catch Me If You Can, part Brokeback Mountain and part Great Escape, I Love You, Philip Morris – from the writers of Bad Santa – is a hard film to categorise.

That it’s a real life story is incredible. Steven becomes a cop, cons his way into a food company, leaves his wife, gets into fraud, into prison, falls in love with the sweet Philip Morris (Ewan McGregor), and spends the rest of the film either committing more crime, breaking out of jail to see Philip, or breaking in (posing as a lawyer) to get him released.

It’s at once biographical, absurdist, romantic, farcical, serious and stupid. With some great blowjob jokes.
McGregor is good as the slightly-fey but not overly-camp object of Steven’s affections, but it’s Carrey who’s most impressive. His rubber face now raveaned with laugh lines (or should that be stretch marks?), this isn’t the Serious Carrey of The Truman Show – but it’s also not the Comedy Carrey of Ace Ventura.

For the first time, it’s a successful combination of both. And if the same could be said of this genre-mixing film – a comedy that’s all the funnier for the laughs carrying weight, a drama that’s all the slicker for having a lighter side, a bit of a mess but a really fun mess – it could also be said of Carry’s character, someone you can’t help but like, but someone the film never strains to make likeable.

“How can I love you?” says McGregor at one point of Steven’s compulsive lying and trickery – traits that aide his escapes, but ones that get him banged up in the first place. “You don’t even know who you are”.

Stuart McGurk