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Based on a story so unbelievable it has to be true, I Love You Phillip Morris follows the life of charming conman Steven Ray Russell (Jim Carrey). After years of pretending to be straight, and raising a daughter with his wife Debbi (Leslie Mann), Steven is in a severe car accident, and decides to embrace his homosexuality. Unfortunately, he also embraces his inner con man and soon finds himself in prison. After accustoming himself to the prison lifestyle, Steven meets a sweet and beautiful young man named Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor), and the two fall deeply in love. From that moment on Steven dedicates his life to making Phillip happy.

I Love You Phillip Morris
I watched I Love You Phillip Morris with little in the way of expectations, mostly due to the film’s iffy release, which led to a lacking word of mouth. For a long time the film was only really notable for the struggles it had making it to American screens (mostly because it’s about, gasp, gay people). After finally seeing the damn thing (it took the film almost three years to make it to video), and without thinking too hard about it, I think it may be my favourite romantic comedy since Stardust, and it’s definitely my favourite Jim Carrey movie since Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (which I’d argue was more of a Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman movie than a Jim Carrey vehicle). It isn’t an ‘important’ movie, or one that will change anyone’s life, but it’s very good at what it sets out to do. Structurally and tonally speaking I’d compare it most to George Clooney’s underrated Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. Both films run quickly, are brightly coloured, and shift comfortably between absurd comedy and heartfelt drama. Both films are also told largely through Jim Carrey’s narration, and first time directing team Glenn Ficarra and John Requa were clearly inspired by other semi-recent narration heavy films like American Beauty and Fight Club. I Love You Phillip Morris often reminded me a little too much of other movies, but Ficarra and Requa (who also wrote the script based on Steve McVicker’s book, along with the scripts for Bad Santa and the Bad News Bears remake) pick the best stuff to snatch.

In the end, the film’s quirky style is secondary to the storytelling and performances, which remain solid throughout the production. The basic story is apparently very close to the actual events, which is delightfully hard to believe. There’s actually so much to Steven Jay Russell’s ridiculous life that the filmmakers run into problems while making time for everything. The film feels a little episodic, and certain stories are dumped too quickly by the wayside, but for the most part the less important stuff is delegated to amusing and effective montages, Russell’s many prison escapes, for example. The film was apparently recut after not finding distribution, so it’s possible there’s a longer version out there somewhere, though I’m not sure I’d trade the breakneck pace for more insight. And for an apparently structurally troubled production, the consistently shifting tone and deft cinematic slight of hand comes off without a hitch.

I Love You Phillip Morris
Fortunately Carrey, McGregor and Leslie Mann all give such strong performances the missing character beats aren’t all that detrimental. Russell is the perfect role for Carrey at this point in his career. After a pretty prolonged period out of the limelight, I’m guessing audiences have had time to miss the actor’s old school antics, and here Carrey embraces his physical comedy shtick here with a sort of dramatic refinery. This balance is missing from many of his ‘serious’ rolls, where he’s so unfunny he comes across as a perpetual victim. With the exception of his work in Eternal Sunshine (which again, I see as a group effort) this could be his best work, and the best mix of his skills since Man on the Moon (which I’d count among a handful of films that only his presence makes worth while, including Me, Myself and Irene and Liar Liar). Ewan McGregor isn’t given a lot of screen time, but is positively heart-wrenching when he needs to be. Besides, that smile of his can light up a room, we don’t need to be convinced that Russell would fall madly in love with him. I’m not even gay and I’d consider spending the rest of my life holding him in my arms. Hypothetically speaking, of course. Ahem.

I Love You Phillip Morris

Video


I Love You Phillip Morris follows the lead set by most modern comedies, and cranks up the colour knob about ten pastel notches beyond Easter Sunday. This is truly a beautiful visual experience, which was hinted at in the advertising, but never really captured. The directors and cinematographer Xavier Pérez Grobet don’t go full Peter Greenaway with colour themes, but there are sections that are defined by a specific hue and/or colour style, specifically different eras in flashback, hospital scenes and prison scenes (shockingly the production didn’t pick the bright yellow prison jumpsuits). Most of the film is slightly blown out, yellowed, and grainy. Peter Jackson’s Lovely Bones used a similar look to evoke period, but here the look generally evokes a jovial feel that helps the jagged tonal shifts. The film was shot on 35mm, but is repetitively grainy enough to make it look a bit like a 16mm production. Details are never overwhelmingly sharp, but there are clear differences (in background detail clarity especially) between this 1080p Blu-ray and the DVD I used to get these screen caps. Sometimes the clarity gets the better of the film, and you can see bristles where Carrey has shaved his widow’s peak. For some idiotic reason this kept pulling me out of the film.

Audio


The audio design isn’t as impressive as the decorative production design and cinematography, but this DTS-HD Master Audio track does everything it can to make it work. The track is very warm, well balanced, and loud without noticeable noise on the highest levels. There are a few standout moments, including Russell’s big car accident towards the beginning of the film, his prison roommate entering the cat-calling chaos of jail, and the hilarious juxtaposition of romantic dancing over a brutal inmate and guard fistfight. Besides these occasional blips, and some effectively immersive pop music cues, there isn’t really any directional work, and the rear channels only hum with occasional ambience. Car engines and music ensure that the LFE does its job.

I Love You Phillip Morris

Extras


Extras start with a group commentary track featuring writer/directors John Requa and Glenn Ficarra, producers Andrew Lazar and Far Shariat, chief lighting technician Max Pomerleau and cinematographer Xavier Pérez Grobet. It’s not the most entertaining track, but it’s consistent, informative, and has a few belly laughs. Most behind the scenes tales concern the film’s ridiculously low budget, and Grobet’s beautiful photography. Discussion of Carry’s input and influence, and information about the real life story are among the most interesting factoid snippets. Turns out even the short gag about Russell finding a way to get steak into the mess hall for him and Morris is based on a true story.

‘The Making of I Love You Phillip Morris’ (11:50, HD) is an amusing EPK that features interviews with most of the cast and crew, plenty of raw behind the scenes footage, and a little too much in the way of narrative reveals. For some reason the footage from the film itself is presented in standard definition-looking video. Next up are seven deleted/alternate/extended scenes (16:50, SD). These include Steven revealing his gayness to his wife, an unnecessary storm at sea scene, footage of Steven dealing with his new job, and more footage of Steven and his Miami boyfriend (much of this footage was resituated to appear it happened later in the story). Things are wrapped up with three trailers and trailers for other Lionsgate releases.

I Love You Phillip Morris

Overall


I Love You Phillip Morris is one of the most sadly overlooked films of the year (even though it was officially released in 2009), and deserves a discovery on home video. A word of advice: do yourself a favour and [i]don’t[i] do too much research on the real life Steven Jay Russell. I was extremely ignorant to the story, and was left with some nice surprises. One could even say I was conned myself by the filmmakers, if one wanted to make me sound like an ass (and why wouldn’t you?). This release looks and sounds solid, and features a good commentary track, along with a good collection of deleted scenes. Things could be improved with a more in depth look at the true story, but overall this is a very satisfying release.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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