Editorial: Was 'I Love You Phillip Morris' Too Gay for Hollywood?

December 10, 2010

I Love You Phillip Morris

Did you know there was a new Jim Carrey movie that finally hit theaters last weekend? If you're a regular reader of this site you probably have somewhat of an idea of what I Love You Phillip Morris is (you can watch the latest red band trailer here). But most people outside of film geek circles, or those who don't read movie blogs like this, have no clue what this film is about or even that it's coming out at all (it barely made over $110,000 at the box office last weekend). How does a Jim Carrey movie get buried after being finished for over two years? The answer isn't as complicated as you might think, but it's still very bizarre.

The origins of the I Love You Phillip Morris drama go back to the 2009 Sundance Film Festival where it had its very first world premiere. The film was being touted as the must-see film of the festival and indeed it was. It starred Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor and also served as the directorial debut of Glen Ficarra and John Requa, the writers behind Bad Santa. Sold as a dark comedy, the movie went into Sundance without a distributor but confident it could secure one by the festival's end. After all, Jim Carrey's name alone could guarantee a healthy box office return, right?

As the lights went down in the crowded Eccles Theatre, the audience anticipation was high and the film did not disappoint. Laughs were abundant throughout the screening and the next day Jim, Ewan and even the film's producer Luc Besson participated in a huge press day that elevated the film's profile even higher. Speaking to Jim and Ewan at the press day it was clear they were proud of the film and excited to take a chance at trying something new.

But isn't I Love You Phillip Morris a comedy? What kind of chance could Jim Carrey be taking if he's making a low-budget comedy? The answer to that question is the same reason you most likely haven't heard of the film in the first place, because of its gay content.

To explain, I Love You Phillip Morris begins with Christian family man Steven Russell (Carrey) caring for his wife and kids in a peaceful suburban neighborhood. Everything seems right in the world except for one thing, Steven is secretly gay and after a nasty car wreck has finally decided to come out of the closet and live an openly gay life. This leads to many fun plot twists that I won't reveal, but in short, the film is about a gay con man who keeps breaking out/into jail to be with his male lover. Keep in mind this is played for laughs and is all based on a true story (as told in this book).

That premise plus the dark humor brought on by the film's writer-directors was enough to make I Love You Phillip Morris one of the biggest hits of Sundance 2009. But despite its popularity no distributor wanted to buy it. Was it the tone of the film? Was it the graphic (but still R-rated) gay sex? Was it the fact that Jim Carrey, one of the biggest stars working today, was actually playing a gay man for laughs? Without being in those meetings I can only speculate but the facts are that the film didn't sell at Sundance or Cannes despite being well received at both festivals. Furthermore, the only offer of theatrical distribution it got was from Consolidated Pictures, a distributor nobody had ever heard of and before it could even touch the film, they went out of business. This threatened to put the film straight to DVD or even worse, in complete limbo.

Finally after months of waiting, Roadside Attractions picked up the film for theatrical distribution earlier this Fall. But with all due respect to Roadside, they are a smaller company and nobody knows about their film. Let me put it another way, nobody knows about their film starring Jim Carrey that just hit limited theaters last weekend. I've seen the film twice, at the Sundance '09 premiere and at a recent press screening, both times I've watched audiences thoroughly enjoy the film. What's worse is that there are other Jim Carrey movies that have gotten ten times the exposure as Phillip Morris but nowhere near the praise (I'm looking at you Fun With Dick and Jane and The Number 23).

My initial thought before the lights went down at the film's Sundance premiere was despite the film's quality, whoever buys it can make their money back just on Jim Carrey's name alone. When the movie turned out to be quite good, my hopes for a big sale seemed inevitable. If you release a Jim Carrey comedy in theatres nationwide people will show up, almost no matter what. I know the gay material may be off-putting to some but you can at least get a healthy box office take on people's curiosity. It's not like the film cost a fortune to make (reportedly $13 million) in the first place so the risk is low. Even if it performed at middle-of-the-road numbers it would still be a success.

The last time a studio buried a well received Jim Carrey movie was 2004's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I'm not saying Phillip Morris is the masterpiece that Eternal Sunshine is, but it's worlds beyond the crap he's been making lately. And that brings us to our current dilemma, Roadside has bought the film and isn't shying away from the gay themes at all. You see them front and center in the trailer and it's all played for laughs. So then why is the movie getting buried? Lack of advertising money? Lack of confidence? Both?

At this rate nobody outside of film geek circles knows about I Love You Phillip Morris and it's a shame for two reasons. It's one of Jim Carrey's best performances in years and it's low profile almost guarantees it will be his lowest grossing movie ever.

There wasn't any movie coming out last weekend worth your support more than I Love You Phillip Morris, and it should still be playing. It's slowly opening in a few markets this weekend and if you can find it, go out and support it. After Yes Man and Horton Hears A Who, I never thought I'd be encouraging people to go see a Jim Carrey movie again but life is full of surprises. I Love You Phillip Morris is one of them. Have fun!

Follow Marco on Twitter at @bigdumbmale - more editorials on FS.net coming soon!

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I have seen this movie and I have to say im shocked there hasnt been a big international release. It was witty, packed with comedy and extremely clever. Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor.. 2 big stars and no publicity? Unless your a super homo-phobe (I honestly had to look away at some scenes) I strongly recomend this excellent movie!

Surprised! on Dec 10, 2010


It's been out in the UK for a while now and I rented it on DVD back in July. Not sure why it's been buried as it's one of Jim Carrey's best films for the last few years (not exactly hard). There isn't even very much explicit gay content. I can only think of one scene near the beginning (which was funny because it was a surprise) and maybe a bit of kissing but that's all.

harv on Dec 10, 2010


well.........look at "poughkeepsie tapes". it's been held back with distribution royalties issues for what seems like forever. if a movie is made - RELEASE IT...............how difficult is that?

beavis on Dec 10, 2010


This was the best con man film I've seen in the past 5 years. Definitely a must watch.

peloquin on Dec 10, 2010


And yet a terrible movie like I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry comes out, gets crap reviews, and makes a ton of money.....good lord, Americans can be very hypocritical.

beau on Dec 10, 2010


I saw it back in april and I thought it was a very good movie.

NafiisW on Dec 10, 2010


I am so glad I live in UK.

Ambient on Dec 10, 2010


I'm sure if I was gay, it would interest me. I just have no interest in seeing the film.

Gabriel on Dec 10, 2010


^^^^ Geez, miss the point much? It's NOT a "gay" film. And you don't have to be gay to enjoy it. I saw it on the plane coming back from the U.K. last June and laughed out loud the entire time. Very very funny movie.

Film Fan on Dec 10, 2010


@Gabriel What exactly does your sexuality have to do with enjoying a movie? I Love You Phillip Morris is a con-man film that just happens to have characters that are gay.

SkaOreo on Dec 10, 2010


@Gabriel - open your mind a little. You don't have to be gay to like this film. In the same way you don't have to be black to love blacksploitaion cinema or asian to love kung fu films. Narrow minded prat.

Sonnychiba1 on Dec 10, 2010


I'm not lesbian but also over enjoyed "Lesbian Vampire Killers", a totally GREAT flick. 🙂

Manuel on Dec 10, 2010


Lovin' the tolerance displayed here; as soon as somebody says they are not interested in something; five people jump down his back for his/her OPINION. A tolerant response would be, "that's too bad Gabriel that you feel that way, but I can guarantee it's worth a good look so hopefully you have a change of heart! Have a good one!".........instead of ignorant, closed-minded, narrow-minded being used for comments. You're reflecting the same qualities that you dislike. Nobody is going to change their mind on something if call them racist, sexist, ignorant, uninformed, bigot, etc....that only helps YOU with your insecurity issues; making you feel superior to somebody else. Hopefully that helps, since insecurity is something that is completely fixable and we're hoping for the best for ya!

SagesSage on Dec 10, 2010


What #8 said If I wanted to watch a gay sex movie - which I dont - I'm sure a quick search on google would find me more than enough.

Lagoya on Dec 10, 2010


Great article Marco. I love Jim Carrey and all the film he has, yes even the number 23. I think people who don't want to see this film should just not watch it period and not complain about it going to theaters. It's a decent dark comedy plot that every one loves, just because its gay dosen't make a dam of a difference. Hilarious cast also and yes the name alone Jim Carrey will have this film do great!!!

Gloria on Dec 10, 2010


i actually saw this movie JUST because there was nothing else to see in the theaters since im a theater buff. but i actually thought this movie surprised me, its not like Broke-Back Mountain because this is an actual comedy that i found funny.

Jericho on Dec 10, 2010


Hell I'm straight and I know what I am, and I wanna see the damn movie!

Xerxex on Dec 10, 2010


Maybe it's because the trailers that I've seen on TV, at least 1-2 times a night, don't make sense to anyone that doesn't follow movies. I think the trailers are terrible. Even my wife, who loves Jim Carrey's movies (especially Dick & Jane), turned to me after the trailer and said "I don't get it. What's the movie supposed to be about?".

S on Dec 10, 2010


sorry Xerxex......I heard it's only coming out in 3D....haha!

C.murder on Dec 10, 2010


To SagesSage. First of all, you can't count. Three people responded to Gabriel before your post, not five. And you also can't read. Because only one of us actually called him a name . Regardless, of course people have a right to their opinion. But how on earth can you possibly defend what he said?

Film Fan on Dec 10, 2010


Ewwww! That's a sick joke C.murder! 3-D is an insult to everything.

Xerxex on Dec 10, 2010


Your artical was thought prevoking and makes me want to give Jim Carrey another run . I have seen a few trailers for the movie and teetered on the thought of seeing it. After reading your artical I am much more apt to do so thanks.

Dawn on Dec 10, 2010


Thanks, Marco, for telling me the background of the film. I thought I heard about the movie before, but never saw it released. And recently I heard a review that said I could skip the movie, but after reading this, I think I will give it a chance. Many times I avoid Jim Carrey movies, but I liked him in his early days and a few movies, so we will see how this movie does.

Chris on Dec 10, 2010


I saw the movie online a while back and thought it was fantastic. No idea why this was not released. It was really funny (like laugh by yourself funny). It also was a movie you keep thinking about days after it's over.

Tyler Bishop on Dec 10, 2010


I'm not a film geek but had seen the trailer. I had pushed the movie to the back of my mind until finding this article. I don't think I can not see it after reading this.

Julie on Dec 10, 2010


Way to spotlight what sounds like a funny flick, Marco. It's just too bad the studio didn't let the film speak for itself , gay con man storyline and all, and put out a trailer that made it look as good as it supposedly is.

Lois on Dec 10, 2010


Eternal Sunshine was burried? I remember it getting a pretty big hoot...but then again, I was in NY.

André on Dec 10, 2010


If you don't like violent movies, don't see braveheart. No one has a problem. But if gay sex makes you uncomfortable and you don't want to watch backdoor mountain, people jump on you for being a right-wing bigot. The only thing hollywood cannot tolerate is intolerance.

Nate on Dec 10, 2010


That poster didn't help.

not that there's anything wrong with that on Dec 10, 2010


Excellent article Marco! I am very happy you posted this. Seeing this film at sundance last year I thought this would be a huge hit. But the lack of publicity is surely to blame. Only recently I noticed the films trailer was released on apple trailers, and that is the only form of advertisement I have seen for this film. Very unfortunate, like many fantastic sundance films, that the weak advertisement has ruined this film.

Sean OHare on Dec 10, 2010


$5 says every homo-phobe that posted on this forum saw Bruno. $1000 says they Jackass 3D. I'll probably never see Brokeback Mountain, tho I'm a big fan of both Gyllenhall and Ledger. Mostly cuz I don't like boring romance movies, or boring cowboy movies. I like good movies. Not overyhyped "It" films. In & Out was generic and felt forced, Jeffery was much better and more authentic. Poor Jim Carrey, all his dogsh*) movies make millions, his decent risky movie get ignored, and his great movies get shafted. For the record, Yes Man and The Number 23 were decent enough, they just did live up to the hype machine. References: In & Out http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119360/ Jeffery http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0113464/

Akirakorn on Dec 10, 2010


Marco, thank you for bringing some attention to a great film that's been wholly ignored by the public along with its distributor. Perhaps it has something to do with American moviegoers' schizophrenic attitude toward gay themes. Take movies like I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, for example - ones that use gay characters for cheap laughs. They get publicity up the wazoo as well as a nice box office draw ($35 million its first week at number one). We're also fine with dramas that keep a straight face when dealing with gay relationships, e.g., Milk, Brokeback Mountain, Philadelphia, Boys Don't Cry, etc. - they have respectable numbers and often generate Oscar buzz and earn mainstream acceptance. But what about movies like I Love You Phillip Morris? How should we receive gay-themed movies that alternate between poking fun at the mechanics of man-on-man loving and expressing genuine moments of love and tenderness between male lovers? It seems that distributors weren't clamoring to purchase the film because they didn't think it would sit well with moviegoin' folk -- they weren't sure how we'd react to it, and they didn't want to take any chances by promoting it as it deserved to be promoted. I just wish they would have given us a chance to react. Who knows: after spending so long neither asking nor telling, we might have learned something about ourselves. -D

deonna hodges on Dec 10, 2010


I would watch this movie.

sharktopus on Dec 10, 2010


Was 'I Love You Phillip Morris' Too Gay for Hollywood? too gay for Hollyweird? right next to San Francisco they are like a Mecca to the gays.

Xerxex on Dec 10, 2010


Saw this back in June this year in the UK and am completely amazed its not out in the US. The fact that this movie is being buried is completely enigmatic on so many levels not least of which its a fantastic movie, with fantastic performances and it actually based on a true story of con-artist Steve Russell. That one man inspired this story is amazing enough - I'm floored at the fuss around the homophobia.

Kathy on Dec 11, 2010


The marketing for this film was terrible, Jim Carrey's last few films have been pretty bad, Ewan Macgregor isn't a huge draw in the USA, and Americans have no interest in movies with gay themes. The paying audience should and will pay for what they want to see, not what Hollywood wants them to see. If you feel a film deserves to be supported, go see it. If Hollywood keeps movies with themes that the general public of the USA doesn't want to see, then situations like this will keep happening. Taking a condescending attitude towards people who don't support movies you want them to see is ridiculous. Unless you are paying for their ticket/rental, then what they do or do not want to see is none of your business.

Shane on Dec 11, 2010


No not really if anything Hollywood is too gay for this movie. The story has a lot of flaws that have nothing to do with being gay or not.

DaftPUNKFAN on Dec 11, 2010


i'm not a zombie but it turns out i like zombie movies... i'd even watch a gay zombie movie.

Bri on Dec 12, 2010


"If I wanted to watch a gay sex movie - which I dont - I'm sure a quick search on google would find me more than enough" This reads like it was written by a 90 year old woman who just found out what the internet, google and gay sex are.

Lebowski on Dec 13, 2010


a christian that comes out of the closet? and you cant figure out why nobody wants to sell it in AMERICA?! this backwoods country that makes people like glenn beck and sarah palin millionaires?

history repeats on Dec 13, 2010


Just seems more like a rental to me. I generally do the big visual big sound types @ the theater and leave the... "script dependent" ones for the home theater. (...and rewatch the big visual big sound types in the home theater again.) 😀

bozo on Dec 13, 2010


This movie was fantastic. It's absolutely hilarious one minute and makes a turn for the dramatic the next. Jim Carrey's performance is amazing as the freakishly smart Russell and MacGregor is simply adorable as the kind-hearted sweetheart Morris, and I am sad that both performances will stay mostly unrecognized because too many people "don't wanna see two guys blow each other." Yes, there are some steamy scenes, but they do not make the film, and homosexuality is not the center point of this movie. It's too bad that a lot of people will miss out on an incredible story.

SuicidalOptimist on Dec 13, 2010


Filmfan, thanks for pointing my inability to read or count. If it wasn't for you; this world would probably end (since it's your reality and everybody else is just existing in it). Disregarding the fact that some posts have gone missing in the past few days; I was hardly defending Gabriel's point of view. I was presenting that there was a better way of getting your point across that might actually work in that people respond to a positive message instead of insecure hatred of different points of view. I can prove it; though I want the best for ya, you'll slam the insecure hatred or some other phrasing. Have a super day Filmfan and I hope your postings help with the insecurity...we're all in your corner!!!

SagesSage on Dec 13, 2010

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