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I Love You Phillip Morris (2009)

Jim Carrey is gay, gay, gay, gay, gay!

Or at least as Steven Russell in this directorial debut of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa. The film had been given positive reviews at Sundance and Cannes, despite withheld release by distributor disputes as well as Disney, who pushed the screening until after A Christmas Carol because they didn’t want the kids to think Uncle Scrooge was gay.

Maybe it’s just me sensationalizing Hollywood gay films (still a minority), and maybe it’s the casting director’s fault that I got excited. I saw the trailer in cinemas and I couldn’t believe it: Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor, two award-winning and famously straight Hollywood actors will play lovers. Then the trailer said: ‘This really happened," and I was a believer.

Regardless of my opening line, this film is not about sexuality. It’s about living. And loving. Fiercely.

The film opens in a hospital, a man on his near-death bed narrating how his life has come to this: it’s because of love. Then clouds. Sweet music. Children laying on a field. A mother calling out to her child. Cut to: “We love you,” and “You’re adopted.” Strap on your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Steven Russell tries the best he could to please the people around him. He is a model husband, church-goer and police officer in Texas, until a car crash enables him to have a dramatic reassessment of his life. So he quit his job and left his family to live a flamboyantly gay life in Miami with his hot new boyfriend (Rodrigo Santoro). Gay life is expensive, but the bills didn’t stop him from overspending for the people he loves. He tried hurting himself, literally jumping off escalators, because insurance pays and he didn’t want to experience being abandoned again, like what his birth mother did.

Now, wasn’t that a cigarette brand in the title? Whether this would be a biographical revelation on how a person became a cigarette brand was something I resisted researching on. We shouldn’t kill the suspense. It wasn’t. The brand name, I found out only upon writing this review, had a single ‘L’ on Philip. Phillip Morris, with the double ‘L’, is the prison-mate, who Steve falls madly in love with. Blonde, blue-eyed and sensitive, he usually lies low to avoid being picked at by prison bullies. Phillip was shy at Steve’s sudden declaration of interest upon first meeting (my favorite scene, Ewan McGregor forever!), but Steve’s street-smarts won him over. He made the impossible at reach even in prison, and that’s saying something. When Steven was being transferred to another prison, Phillip sums up the courage to run out into the yard (where the bullies are) to declare his love across prison walls. In due time, Steven finishes his sentence and poses as a lawyer to get Philip out of his, wherein he succeeds by fishing (“I think you know what I’m talking about”) at the judge’s wrongdoings. After this is a series of conman tricks and prison break attempts. Phillip is angered by Steven's lies and refuses to remain in their relationship. Steven admits that he doesn’t know who he is and he’s been living a lie since he was born, but his love is true.

The movie vacillates between toilet humor and intense drama, and it does so unevenly that the viewer doesn’t know what to expect. I like it that way. Jim Carrey has brought with him his hysterics. This signature acting is so recognizable that it makes it harder to believe that he is still Steven Russell. However, the dramatic scenes he played so admirably, which maybe his best since Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Ewan McGregor was, needless to say, *fabulous* from the Southern accent (he’s Scottish, by the way) down to the shy, feminine glances.

Russell’s case was first put into writing by Steven McViker for the Houston Chronicle. It’s a good thing that this happened for real and we remain in awe. If it weren’t, it would be so difficult to suspend belief that there still exists a love as resilient as this.

Sources: Ace Showbiz, Business World


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