Jim Carrey has had kind of a weird career. He got super-famous in 1994 for Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, coasted through the 90s doing low-brow comedy after low-brow comedy, and has spent the past decade doing a lot of kids’ movies and bad comedies. He is best known for movies where he makes ridiculous faces, does crazy voices, and beats the shit out of himself in bathrooms. It can be easy to forget that he’s made serious films right alongside silly ones throughout most of his career, and that he consistently gets stellar reviews for them. There was even Oscar buzz around his performance in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and while I remember very little about that film (I loved it, it’s just been years, don’t be hatin’), I can’t forget how stunned I was by Carrey’s performance. The guy can break your heart better than almost anyone else in the business.
In I Love You Phillip Morris, which is not about cigarettes but is based on a true story, Carrey plays Steven Russell, a con man, who meets Ewan McGregor’s Phillip Morris while Russell is serving time for conning half the state of Florida and two-thirds of the state of Texas and Morris is serving time for accidental grand theft auto. The two fall in love completely and immediately, and the rest of the film follows the increasingly elaborate cons Russell pulls to alternately give Morris “the life he deserves” and prove his love to Morris. (You should stop reading now if you care about spoilers, because they’re coming.)
People have talked a lot about Phillip Morris‘s graphic gay content, but the only reason anything in the film raises an eyebrow is because it’s between two dudes. There’s implied blow jobs and lots of making out – and a fantastic moment where Morris yanks down Russell’s pants, saying, “Enough romance, let’s fuck” – but the only actual gay sex scene lasts about fifteen seconds and is between Russell and a dude with a sweet ‘stache (credited as The Moustached Man, which should give you a sense of how sweet a ‘stache we’re talking about here). The straight sex scene between Russell and his wife (Leslie Mann, who is my secret girlfriend, okay, don’t tell, don’t make it weird) lasts longer than any gay sex in a movie about gay dudes in love. So, yknow, cool it, people. This movie contains no cocks. Which is pretty sad, since McGregor is famous for his willingness to get his cock out on camera.
Ewan McGregor’s cock aside, I was telling my mom about this film (omitting any references to anyone’s cock) and she commented on how noteworthy it was that major actors no longer seem to be freaked out by playing gay. McGregor, of course, is a no-brainer here – in addition to his proclivity for full-frontal nudity, McGregor has played gay or bisexual characters throughout his career with nary a concern for his future bankability. The real social-justice triumph here is Carrey, whose most recent film, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, is based on a children’s book from 1938. Carrey has historically made films that, whether aimed at them or no, are wildly popular with the under-15 set. That he was willing to make something like Phillip Morris, wherein he is seen fucking The Moustached Man in the ass and making multiple declarations of love to McGregor, shows how far we’ve come from the days when Rupert Everett couldn’t get roles due to his sexuality. That Carrey was able to go from this to Mr. Popper’s Penguins without anyone blinking an eye is huge, guys. Let’s take a moment to acknowledge that.
Okay. Moment over. Social justice discussed. Mostly I just want to talk about how fucking good this movie is. Seriously, you guys, it’s so funny and touching and wonderful. Steven Russell is a role I can’t imagine many actors being able to handle as believably and sincerely as Carrey does. Russell is cold-blooded in his cons, which he pulls off with a light-hearted unconcern, but just as warm-blooded in his love for Phillip, and you believe every inch of it and somehow never think he’s that bad of a guy. He’s sort of a cheerful sociopath. Which is weird. But seriously, there’s a scene at the end between Russell and Morris where Russell has unwittingly managed to get Morris incarcerated again and now he’s impersonating Morris’s lawyer because he needed to see him but Morris thinks he’s dead of AIDS, which he doesn’t have – it’s a long story, see the movie – and I swear to God, Carrey’s sincerity as Russell affirms his love for Morris through thick and thin, no matter what, is one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve ever seen in a film. I love Jim Carrey. I wish he’d stop making dreck.
McGregor, too, delivers a gorgeous performance as the twinkiest little twink who ever sparkled (“I never go in the yard. You know what happens to blonde-haired blue-eyed queers in that yard”). I’ve loved Ewan McGregor since I saw Moulin Rouge! in the eighth grade. At the end, when he holds the lifeless body of his girlfriend (Nicole Kidman) and sobs, I remember being stunned to realize that his tears were not pretty Hollywood tears designed to keep everyone’s make-up intact. They were real. He looked ugly. Which is saying something, as at the time, he looked like this:
McGregor is totally comfortable embodying a new kind of masculinity, one defined not by stoic strength but by vulnerability. His willingness to lay himself open on-screen is rare, and it’s that trait that makes his Phillip so lovable. Pound-for-pound, McGregor and Carrey bring more to the table as romantic partners – more in terms of chemistry, sincerity (I seem to be using that word a lot), and sheer acting ability – than I have seen in a really long time.
I Love You Phillip Morris was written and directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, whose subsequent project was the totally wonderful Crazy, Stupid, Love. I saw that a couple weeks ago, loved it, and have a review of it in the pipeline. When I realized that Phillip Morris (which I watched two days ago) was helmed by the same dudes, I decided it would be fun to do back-to-back reviews. I love the feel these two bring to material, and although they didn’t write Crazy, Stupid, Love. it has a similar sensibility to Phillip Morris. I will be following their career closely as it hopefully continues to grow!