I Just Called to Say ‘I Love You, Phillip Morris’

I Love You, Phillip Morris is a dangerous, groundbreaking film. I use the term “dangerous” here very loosely. When most movies get pushed back time after time, it’s usually a red flag that the studio has a mess on their hands. In the case of I Love You, Phillip Morris it was more of a matter of finding a way to market the movie. In this sense, the movie was plagued with some very serious problems since it was filmed. For starters, we live in a time where the whole gay thing is still very politically charged. Think about it, when was the last time you saw a movie where the lead was gay and it wasn’t an Oscar bait movie like Milk or Brokeback Mountain? They’re few and far between. If patrons are going to “tolerate” the gay lifestyle on screen, they want a message out of it. I Love You, Phillip Morris doesn’t really have such a message. It is content with telling its story and letting the characters live out their lives onscreen. The other problem, and possibly an even bigger one, is its star. Funny man Jim Carrey has always been a divisive star. Either you love him or you hate him. The issue that this presents is I Love You, Phillip Morris‘s departure from his standard roles, so some fans were disappointed. On the other hand, anti-fans, such as myself, were hesitant to go into Jim Carrey movie for fear that it’d be like all the rest. Needless to say, those that share my fears can put them to rest.

I Love You, Phillip Morris showcases its charm by headlining the movie with a character who, by all means, should be an absolute turn-off. Here we have a man who lies, cheats, and steals his way to a life of luxury. What about that screams “leading man?” But the story of our protagonist, Steven Russell, is charmingly quirky and surprisingly compelling. The movie never really makes excuses for his actions, with the exception of his reckless abandon of the law when trying to reunite with his lover, the titular Phillip Morris. Instead, we see a man and much like Morris himself, fall in love with the character and choose to ignore his substantial flaws.

Once again, returning to the political dimensions outside the film, part of the charm of Steven Russell lies in the fact that he’s not very likable. Or at least, I feel like I shouldn’t like him, but find myself investing in his story anyways. This is surprisingly progressive in a day and age where gay characters, both male and female, are confined to limited roles such as supportive best friend or the victim. Steven Russell is neither of these, nor is he an entirely safe character. For once, Hollywood was willing to take a chance and create an intriguing gay character that was neither helpless nor a saint. Instead, Steven Russell is a mess of contradictions, being both recognizably deviant, but still strangely sweet and a pleasure to watch.

But to credit I Love You, Phillip Morris with breaking the mold of Hollywood representations of gays is one thing. It’s an entirely different thing to make a palatable movie out of it. With these types of movies, I may just be cynical, but you don’t usually find a mix of political worth and actual entertainment value. Usually one or the other is abandoned to make the film into a message movie or a laughingstock. I Love You, Phillip Morris straddles the line. It’s got a pleasant mix of both, but part of the movie’s appeal is that it never seems to address or congratulate itself for its political value in creating a dimensional gay character that isn’t afraid to break boundaries. What results is a quirky and engaging character study, ably performed by Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor, and the rest of the cast, that is surprisingly and pleasantly political in its representation.

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