Finally, a movie that dares to ask the question, “Would you commit a crime to sleep with Ewan McGregor?” To which I say, “Where do I sign?” I’m willing to admit that gay fanboys probably ponder this question more than most, but it’s still an important topic, and I’m happy to see it finally addressed on the big screen.
I Love You Phillip Morris stars Jim Carrey in the true story of Steven Russell, whose life of excess is paid for thanks to his various cons, schemes, thefts and frauds. Steven struggles with his identify from a young age. After learning he is adopted, the following years of his life are all about creating the perfect image of the perfect son, husband and father, perhaps to convince himself that he’s worthy of his adopted parents’ love, or perhaps to show his biological mother what she missed. After a near-death experience, Steven vows to change his life, come out of the closet and create a whole new identity and life for himself. And boy does he. With no interest in living within his means, Steven soon discovers what so many of us learn along the way: being gay is expensive. Thus begins his life of crime.
During a stint in prison, Steven happens to see Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor) across a crowded room (and riot) and falls instantly in love. That he falls in love at first sight is no big surprise. Steven doesn’t do anything halfway. His schemes aren’t particularly subtle, and his extravagances hardly fly under the radar, so Carrey’s own brand of excess is a good fit here. Though the movie is about a crook who just happens to be gay, it’s hard, as a gay homosexual myself, not to equate Steven’s struggle to be with Phillip with our own current struggle for equality. In a scene early in the film, Steven and Phillip dance in their jail cell, their bodies mere silhouettes in the darkness. While chaos ensues around them, they are blissfully unaware, lost in each other’s embrace and kisses. Like I said, it’s hard not to identify. You can refuse to recognize love, but you can’t outlaw it.
McGregor is golden here, giving one of his best and most vulnerable performances. His Phillip is naive, yes, but also trusting and exactly the sort of boyfriend that a con man (or any of us) would love to have. Not because he’ll believe anything, but because he’s so willing to, out of love and compassion. There’s not a moment of hesitation for either actor here. They both commit 100% to the roles and the “gay stuff.” I would expect no less from Ewan, who has played this sort of material before. Carrey, I must admit, is a bit of a revelation. There are echoes of The Truman Show here, as his scripted life continually unravels, but in most aspects, it’s new territory for him, and he plays it with both enthusiasm and authenticity. You may not believe anything Steven says, but you believe he loves Phillip. And since the title of the film is I Love You Phillip Morris, that’s a pretty important thing to make the audience believe.
Odds are that most of you will see this on DVD, where I expect it to be a bigger success than in its theatrical release. It’s taken years for the film to make it to cinemas, and after its first week, it’s already disappearing quickly. If you have the opportunity to see it in theaters, please do. Outside of gay independent films, gay sex is usually played for laughs or the first step in a character’s tragic demise. So, seeing gay sex in a film as just a matter of fact in a gay person’s life is always appreciated. While I Love You Phillip Morris falls just short of being the gay romantic comedy we’ve all been waiting for, I think gay audiences will more or less embrace it as such, or at least as a big step in that direction.