Jim Carrey's newest movie brings dark edge to comedy
I Love You Phillip Morris, starring Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor, takes bromance to the next level in its depiction of the real-life story of Steven Russel, a cop turned con man.
After a life-threatening incident causes him to re-evaluate his life, Russel reveals to his wife that he is homosexual and proceeds to, as he says, “start life over and live it like the real [Russel].” Swept away by his constant lying and money schemes, Russel eventually lands himself in jail because, as he says, “being gay is really expensive.” While in a Texas penitentiary he meets and falls in love with fellow inmate Phillip Morris, a blue-eyed, Southern beauty portrayed by Ewan McGregor.
Although stereotypes abound in this movie, its quirky, dark undertones have a bite to them and make the viewer laugh, cry, and think in turn. The use of the protagonist as a narrator lends a Forrest Gump charm to the film and succeeds at ingratiating Russel with his audience. This, along with Jim Carrey’s unique slapstick humor, makes the movie endearing and removes it from the harsher realities it depicts.
Indeed, the subject matter in this film is heavy: attempted suicide, jail, and AIDS. Yet the irreverence of the actors combined with the soundtrack and camera work make it alternately hilarious and emotional in just the right places. The film asks the viewer to think deeply about different cultural and societal norms through the use of humor and stereotypes.
Jim Carrey portrays Russel as the ultimate chameleon. He plays the devoted husband to a tee, then switches with seemingly little trouble into the stereotypical gay man, then slips into the role of chief financial officer, doctor, grocer, and countless others. While Carrey’s diversity in character is applaudable, the ease with which his character switches roles begs the question: Who is the real Steven Russel?
Russel struggles with his identity throughout the movie, fulfilling different roles and spinning webs of lies in an effort to find out what or whom he really cares about. As he soon discovers, nothing else matters to him but the love of Phillip Morris, whom he goes to extreme lengths to be with.
For the most part, this romantic comedy, despite the new spin it takes, is comfortingly enough like those before it. Boy meets girl — or in this case, boy meets boy — they fall in love, go through hardships, and emerge victorious with their love intact.
This is not, however, a typical romantic comedy. It is a true story and the ending reflects upon that truth: Life isn’t always as perfect and cookie-cutter as Pretty Woman or Sleepless in Seattle. Still, this film portrays the struggles and rewards of love in poignant ways and proclaims the power that love has to change and shape a person’s identity and life.