I Love You Phillip Morris is a love story told by a con man, a liar. And as you might expect, the character of the teller reflects the movie’s structure. It’s tricksy, Gollum might say.
It’s a story of deceit and determination: a portrait of a lover willing to do anything to be with the man he loves. The movie is almost always deceiving you, but this allows the story to take advantage of cinema’s most explosive weapon: surprise.
Surprise is what makes I Love You Phillip Morris worth seeing.
Basically, the movie is about Steven Russell, a gay con man played by Jim Carrey, and his struggle to forge a life for himself and his lover, Phillip Morris, played by Ewan McGregor, whom he met in prison.
An amazing liar and a tenacious lover, Russell pulls off increasingly complex, comical and even admirable cons, deceiving everyone: the police, prison guards, his lover, the audience and even himself. But hold on, no spoilers. Because the best part of this movie is the way Russell pulls the wool from over your eyes, only to happily reveal the audacity of his affection.
The final con, around which the entire film is built, is so crazy and unforgettable that you should just see it. And what makes the con truly unbelievable is that it’s based on a true story.
Although the movie is certainly worth seeing, it isn’t perfect. The relationship between Morris and Russell isn’t as developed as it could be. The movie is much more about Russell’s life than it is about his relationship with Morris, which creates a certain lack of pathos. Sometimes the comedy falls flat: think R-rated sex scene mixed with “In Living Color” Jim Carrey. It’s bland and leaves a bad taste. However, that’s not to say it doesn’t have its funny moments.
And in case you have the impression I Love You Philip Morris is a pick-me-up, it’s not. The movie’s filled with more defeats than victories. But there is something radiant in Russell’s affection for Morris, something that can’t be conquered by authority, distance, money or time; something humbling that begs the audience to answer: What would you do for love? What are the limits to your romance?
Today when a Facebook status update means something in a relationship, there seems to be a lack of old-school lovesick lunacy. I Love You Phillip Morris goes back to that; it champions love over anything, even morality. In this way, the movie resounds refreshingly with the Apostle Paul’s words: “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”