When Hollywood says something is a true story, do you believe it in full? If you do you may be under the age of twelve. If not you have likely seen enough films to realize that filmmakers like to change the truth quite often. Look at The Social Network from earlier this year. While it’s a great film, it appears to have fudged more than a few facts. Some people were up in arms about this, however, I was not. This is what Hollywood does; many times it makes the film more interesting than the reality. This is why they often choose to “print the legend.”
The film begins with Steven narrating from his death bed and he begins to tell us his life story. Jim Carrey stars as Steven who has a loving wife, beautiful child, a good job and what appears to be a happy future. Though one thing that has burned him for a long time, knowing he is adopted by not knowing his real mother. One day he finds out his mother has been near them all along. After confronting her and failing to make a bond, he begins to change. After quitting his job, Steven and his family move to Texas in an attempt to start over.
After getting into a bad car accident Steven has an epiphany and decides to live his life on his own terms, which means coming clean about his homosexuality. He leaves his family, moves to Florida and finds a new boyfriend. Unfortunately, living life to the fullest meant becoming a con man in order to fulfill his material desires. When the heat finally caught up to him Steven tried to commit suicide and failed, finally landing him in prison. It is there when he meets the bashful car thief Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor).
The rest of the film is an adventure driven by Steven’s antics and lawbreaking. What is unique is that Steven narrates the film as dishonestly as he lives. He lies to the characters and to the audience at the same time. This technique is as interesting as it is frustrating; in fact some of the scenes, including the ending, would have been funnier if the audience knew more about what was really happening. Instead watching the film is a fairly frustrating experience.
One of my favorite films about a con man has to be Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Like I Love You Phillip Morris, it was also based on a true story but the end result is far more convincing (likely because the cast and director were far superior to those involved with Phillip Morris). Catch Me If You Can is a lighthearted adventure if nothing else; the problem with Phillip Morris is that the feeling and emotion throughout the film are terribly inconsistent.
This is mostly due to the fact that there is not one character in the film to relate to. Are we supposed to feel sorry for two homosexual convicts? Are we so progressive now that we should side with two gay men regardless of their jailbird status? I think not. If this story really is based in reality, it’s a true story about two idiots that serve no useful purpose in society. A redeeming quality is that Carrey shows his wide range of humorous and dramatic abilities, but it isn’t enough to save the film from its flaws.
There is also a fair amount of sex and graphic language surrounding the homosexuality in the film. There was one scene towards the beginning that rivals the disgust I felt while watching Borat. This made the film a curious choice for the wide Christmas release; it is certainly not something to take the family to. It was no surprise that the studio pushed the film to January (when most studios release their crap films). Regardless, the sex in this film made me remember why I love classic films – the sex was realized through innuendo and body language. The way a woman stood at the door or smoked a cigarette, language as seen in this scene from Double Indemnity, those films were truly sexy.
Of course, a progressive Hollywood comedy wouldn’t be complete without a punch at George W. Bush, which is why they give us one at the end (the apparently “true” film takes place when W was governor of Texas). The lackluster ending, like the rest of I Love You Phillip Morris, feels like much more of something we’ve already seen before (and not nearly as good). My advice would be to skip this one entirely and go see True Grit or stay home and Netlflix some old favorites.