So they guys who wrote “Bad Santa” (2003) directed a gay romantic comedy? This should be interesting.
The buzz around this movie sounded a lot like this, “It’s the movie where Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor kiss!” So, that’s what I went into it expecting. If all they do is kiss, maybe it happens in a Truth or Dare game. Maybe they have to kiss to hide from the cops. Remember Gene Hackman walking through the dance club in drag at the end of “The Birdcage?” Something like that. But this isn’t the movie where Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor kiss. This is the movie where Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor kiss—and then blow each other. Shocking as that was, even more surprising was watching Carrey cross the “finish line” into some random guy’s posterior. But don’t let all the gay sex fool you, this is a love story.
Steven Russell is a gay con man. But he wasn’t always…well, he was always gay…but he wasn’t always a con man. Make sense? After finding out that he was adopted, a small town boy decides to become the best person he possibly can. He joins the police force, marries a lovely woman (did I mention he hadn’t come out of the closet yet?), and has an equally lovely daughter. After using his police connections to find his birth mother, he and his family move to Texas where he gets a job working for a produce company.
Everything seems peachy keen until a SURPRISE T-BONE CAR CRASH, everyone’s favorite overused movie sequence happens. Now Russell has two things in common with Anton Chigurh, the other thing being a haircut that makes you appreciate your own barber. Anyway, long story short, he comes out, leaves his wife, lives the glamorous life, and cons companies out of their money to pay for it all. He’s found out, thrown in jail, and there he meets the love of his life.
Ewan McGregor is adorable, and might I say, very huggable as the titular character, Phillip. Always one to see the good in a person, Russell’s soft-spoken lover has been taken advantage of in the past. These lines are blurred in his relationship with one of the world’s most infamous con men. When it looks like Phillip will be charged as an accessory for a crime he was completely unaware of, the scales lean towards ‘yes’. When Russell lays down a speech declaring his love for Phillip and the purity of his intentions, the scale heads back towards ‘maybe.’
The believability of this relationship is one of the film’s strongest elements as there’s no doubt about how these men feel about one another. Their motivations are clear and understandable, we get why they do what they do and the film’s flaws are most definitely not in the actors’ performances.
The first thirty minutes of “Morris” are really funny. The last seventy minutes are not. There are amusing parts here and there but the film loses its footing after attempting to switch gears into a dramatic tone. Once it makes the change, it becomes hard to pinpoint exactly what the filmmakers are trying to do. A majority of the latter half follows Russell as he repeatedly breaks out of prison. It’s at this point that the story moves away from his relationship with Phillip and focuses on a series of gags that, if they didn’t happen in real life, would be seen as more distractive than necessary, especially with the amount of time they take up. By the end, the film feels uneven and unsure of itself.
That being said, it’s important to recognize the social importance of a film like this. In an election year that saw California vote against gay marriage rights (thanks a lot, Mormons), it became clear that while America is finally ready for a black president, they aren’t ready to support non-hetero love. The success of “Brokeback Mountain” showed that maybe people are heading in the right direction. My mom doesn’t watch R-rated movies and even she liked the gay cowboy movie…not quite enough to agree with me on Prop. 8 (thanks a lot, Mormons) but what can you do? “I Love You Phillip Morris” is an approachable comedy, not some artsy-fartsy piece of…well, art. Jim Carrey’s in this movie! Obi-Wan from the “Star Wars” prequels is in this movie!
Something tells me that if “Morris” can avoid the dreaded NC-17 rating, a lot of people who normally wouldn’t watch a “gay movie” are going to see this story about two men in love—not in lust—but in real, heart-fluttering, ‘til the ends of the Earth love. That’s something, isn’t it? I just wish the movie was a little better, and so will most of the people who watch it.