Cannes 2009 Review: Jim Carrey's I Love You Phillip Morris
by Alex Billington
May 21, 2009
What the heck is Jim Carrey doing in Cannes? Well, there's a sidebar selection of films, not officially part of the festival, but in the Directors' Fortnight. Since I missed seeing I Love You Phillip Morris at Sundance this year, I wanted to catch it while it was showing in Cannes - I'm glad I did. Not only was it a breath of fresh air to see an American indie film while at Cannes, but it was simply a great film. Screenwriters Glenn Ficarra and John Requa make their directing debut with Phillip Morris, a comedy based on a true story about two gay lovers who meet in prison that I could describe as Carrey's take on Catch Me If You Can.
Carrey plays the Frank Abagnale character, named Steven Jay Russell, a regular guy from Virginia who one day realizes he is gay and leaves his wife (Leslie Mann) and kids behind. Russell goes all out being gay, buying endless clothes and indulging in every last gay desire he can. But, as he says in the film, "it's expensive being gay" and he has no money. So Russell starts scamming people out of their money. And that's what Phillip Morris is about - a few of the different ways he makes his money. Of course, it's also about the relationship he has with Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor), another gay man he meets in prison.
The relationship side of the film doesn't really transcend the expected romantic comedy norms, even if it is about a gay couple (and we don't see that kind of story that often). Russell and Morris act like any old happy couple, and they have their hardships and struggles and passionate moments, those are all there, but it's not anything new. What makes this so great, or at least so entertaining to watch, is that they show, occasionally in detail, the cons that Russell pulls. They're not as elaborate as say, Ocean's Eleven, but they are impressive (and often times funny) to see him pull them off, especially for someone who wasn't well educated.
Phillip Morris isn't going to go down as a gay classic, but it is a fun con man romp, with a gay love story that even straight people can appreciate. Carrey does a great job, as does McGregor, but I get the sense that Carrey was instructed to more often just play his comical self rather than the real life Russell. This was probably so that we actually have something to laugh at, as Carrey is quite funny, but there were a few times where I felt like I was watching a dull studio feature and not the more intricate comedy that it had the potential to be. All in all, I Love You Phillip Morris is a solid and wholly entertaining first-time film.
Cannes Rating: 8 out of 10