"I Love You Phillip Morris" (2009) is rather an unusual title for a mainstream Hollywood movie. Not that there is anything wrong with the title per se, but the film features two male protagonists, with no lead actress, and the two leads are madly in love with each other. Of course, with a gay theme at its core meant that people would not flock to theaters in the opening week. A project like this one is a tough sell for marketers and producers alike. After all, the filmmakers are in the business of generating money by drawing audiences to theaters. This probably explains why the film never got a wider release in the U.S. Initially released in Europe and Asia in 2009--and after struggling for almost nine months to find a distributor--the film was eventually released in the U.S. in the summer of 2010. Upon my first viewing of the film on Blu-ray, I can favorably endorse it for its accessible, mainstream approach in presenting a gay love story, something that is rarely tackled in Hollywood these days.
"I Love You Phillip Morris" is the story of a real-life con man, Steve Jay Russell, played by Jim Carrey. The movie opens with Steve on his deathbed in a hospital. He soon takes us through a journey of his life. He is happily married to his wife (Leslie Mann) and works as a cop in Virginia Beach. But one freakish accident changes everything for him. He vows that he will not tell a lie to his wife and promises to lead his life on his own terms. He tells his wife that he is gay and soon leaves her to start his life as gay man.
He dates a young man and starts leading a flashy lifestyle. He starts spending more than what he earns and finds himself unable to pay the credit-card bills. Thereafter, he starts deceiving people, credit-card companies, banks, and organizations, so that he can keep up with his opulent lifestyle. Obviously, he is thrown in prison, where he meets Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor), and both fall in love. Soon, he is out again, and together with Phillip Morris, he starts a new life. Again, things don't go as planned for Steve, and he continuously finds his way back in prison. To show his love for Phillip, Steve tries to escape, but soon he is caught again. And this cycle repeats several times.
The film is essentially a case study of a con man whose canny and sharp-witted abilities made him the most-wanted criminal in Texas. He would outsmart people and the system with such ease that it became difficult for law-enforcement agencies to predict his next move. In the opening segments, Steve is shown as a small-town lawyer who wins a case even without saying a single word of defense for his client. He is shown as an opportunistic individual when it comes to getting his way. More so, his persuasive and congenial skills meant that people were easily impressed with him. He gets hired as a C.F.O. in a firm, and we soon witness Steve's basic financial skills and his astute timing in reaping the benefits. Throughout this, we understand Steve's world and his high intellectual capabilities. But you are still left to wonder: Why would a smart person like Steve deceive the system and people? The film partly provides this answer by showing Steve's sumptuous lifestyle. But the lack of deep, self-introspective moments with Steve's character makes it hard for the audience to find any correlation with his actions.
As a romantic comedy, "I Love You Phillip Morris" definitely succeeds. Some viewers might find it unappealing to view this movie with its gay theme, but if you give the movie a chance, you will be greatly surprised. First and foremost, the film is not about how gay people conduct themselves or how they weigh the meaning of love in their lives. In fact, the film deals with the universal themes associated with love, such as faithfulness, honesty, and togetherness--something both heterosexual and homosexual couples can easily relate to. Steve's unwavering passion for Phillip is triggered by an unbreakable emotional connection that can be found between two compatible human beings, irrespective of their sexual orientation.
Tastefully and emotionally presented, the scenes between Steve and Phillip excite us with their emotional spark. The directors have delicately balanced this aspect in the film without making it appear a commentary on guy couples. Raunchy humor never finds a place in these scenes, and as a result, the scenes are genuine in conveying Steve and Phillip's affection for one another. Second, Steve's affluent lifestyle is not specific to the gay community. In fact, Steve misreads that for him to be gay, he has to spend money to be flashy. He falls in this trap in a bad way that pretty much dictates the outcome of his life.
Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor are superb in their respective roles, and particularly, I was impressed with Carrey's performance. Carrey drops the usual irritating, over-the-top exposition that made him so often unbearable to watch in the past. But this time, he has convincingly molded himself as Steve Jay Russell, and you tend to connect with Steve's character more than with Carrey's lifeless imitation from the past that might only have distracted from the performance. His on-screen chemistry with McGregor is fun to watch, and both appear comfortable in their roles. Nonetheless, as you watch the film, you can easily see both of them had a lot of fun on the set.
"I Love You Phillip Morris" gets bogged down trying to develop too many comedy moments. One after the other, you are taken into Steve's mind-boggling acts, and after a while you tend to lose any connection to Steve's character. More details about Steve would have been beneficial to the overall story. Still, the film packs believable comedic scenarios that are genuinely humorous. The pacing is never an issue as the film marches along nicely during its ninety-six minutes duration. And above all, Jim Carrey is immensely entertaining as Steve Jay Russell.
Lionsgate presents the film in an MPEG-4/AVC encode in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The film has plenty of flashy dresses and bright outdoors scenes that are rendered beautifully. The transfer is crisp, with bold and vibrant colors. The grain is present texturally, making the transfer more film-like. The close-ups are detailed, and flesh tones are lifelike. The 1080p shines in the outdoor scenes, with well-balanced contrasts that are not excessively bright. Overall, it's a fairly good-looking transfer for a low-budget movie.
The lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is crisp and clear throughout. The dialogue is fairly audible. And the rear channels remain actively engaged during the escape sequences. All in all, I could not find any fault with this good-sounding lossless track.
First, we get a filmmakers' commentary track in which the filmmakers discuss the funding for the project, its distribution, the character of Steve Jay Russell, and their favorite scenes.
Following this, a short making-of featurette shows the filmmakers on the set, where they talk about the difficulty in procuring funding for the movie. They discuss the character of Steve Jay Russell and why they picked Jim Carrey for the role.
We also get a set of seven deleted scenes, followed by several theatrical trailers.
The film's title should not dissuade anyone from seeing the movie. The movie is fairly accessible through its characters and palatable humor, with Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor immensely entertaining in their roles. I was pleasantly surprised by the movie, and, in the end, I came away enjoying it a lot.