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True prison love story is genuinely funny
The concept of same-sex relationships in prison is complex. There is the notion of situational homosexuality, in which otherwise heterosexual people in one-gender conditions, like jails and boarding schools, engage in same-sex activity. Then, of course, there is the issue of gay men and lesbians being put into these places.
Then there’s I Love You, Phillip Morris, with Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor as star-crossed lovers who meet in prison.
Frighteningly enough, it’s based on a true story.
Carrey plays Steven Jay Russell, who was adopted as a baby. When he discovers this, he tailors his life to finding his birth mother.
Becoming a police officer gives him access to government databases, and he uses them to track her down, encouraged by his loving wife and young daughter. But when he finds her she wants nothing to do with him. Strangely, he was the middle child, so it was not a matter of her being too young to care for him, or already having her hands full.
He quits the police force and moves his family to Texas, where he starts work at a food factory, falsifying his credentials. After a terrible car crash, he comes out of the closet, keeping a decent relationship with his now ex-wife and child. He starts dating a handsome young man (Rodrigo Santoro, best known as the eight-foot-tall Persian king Xerxes in 300), but starts a lifetime of cons to make enough money to keep his lavish lifestyle.
He inevitably gets caught, and in prison meets Phillip Morris (McGregor), a fey convict who failed to return a rental car and now refuses to go into the yard for fear of getting beaten up. It’s pretty much love at first sight for the duo, and Steven manages to finagle a transfer over to Phillip’s cell. There is smooching and nookie galore.
Along the rocky road of their relationship, there are other cons, and escapes, and more cons and escapes before the inevitably pseudo-happy ending.
As the reviewer for the Detroit News pointed out, Carrey is best known for outlandish slapstick, but has also proven himself in more serious, genuine roles like The Truman Show. In this film, however, he tries to straddle the line, which is not the most comfortable place for him.
Despite this, the film is, at least at points, hysterically funny. There are some absolutely brilliant comic moments in the film, mostly provided by Carrey but occasionally even put forward by McGregor, who is as charming and handsome as he was in the early days of his career.
While McGregor is from the United Kingdom, where all actors are required to play gay at least once before leaving for Hollywood (along with at least one turn as a Nazi), one would almost expect Carrey to “protect his career” by faking the smooches or minimizing the gayness.
But Carrey was never known for playing it safe, or playing down. He rides ’em doggy-style, he engages in lip-locks with McGregor long enough that even gay audiences might get uncomfortable. He even slow-dances.
There’s also a melancholy moment revolving around the inappropriate use of AIDS. It happened in real life, but in the film, it brings genuine emotion, only to have it turned into a comic gag. It feels cheap, even if it really happened.
Overall, however, it’s a cute movie, whose release was delayed and curtailed by the studio’s inability to decide on a proper marketing scheme for it. It could have been the comedic Brokeback Mountain, but instead it’s a fun little comedy that is mostly playing in art theaters.
Catch it while you can--like Steven Russell, it might be gone before you know it.
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