I Love You Phillip Morris is so good it’s hard to remember what type of movie you are watching. That isn’t some hyperbolic statement intended to garner curiosity or to make the author (moi) seem wiser than reality would hold true, one actually comes away from Phillip Morris in such awe of the story just told that it merits a reminder that what the audience just viewed was a comedy. A fabulous, fully-functioning comedy, but a comedy, nonetheless.
Based on a fantastical, too-good-to-be-true story, Phillip Morris revolves around a con-man’s (Carrey) life as he continually commits insurance fraud, breaks out of jail, and pursues the man he is so wildly in love with, the titular Phillip Morris (McGregor). Carrey and McGregor fill the screen so fully throughout the entirety of this movie that there is hardly any room for anyone else onscreen. And the amazing outcome is that it absolutely works. Spending over 100 minutes with the hyper-dynamic couple of McGregor and Carrey is not only feasible, it’s preferred. Short of a select few incredibly minute supporting roles that do help to push the story along, McGregor and Carrey’s frenetic entanglement of a relationship and life together creates an environment so perfect and exciting that you need nothing more than their own excellent camerawork.
Carrey and McGregor’s performances truly are what make this endeavor the brilliant outing that it is. Not only do they perfectly capture the comedic timing and comical minutiae that make the story work so well, they also manage to create two entirely lovable, relateable characters, also. Carrey brings Steven Russell to life with relative ease while Ewan McGregor makes a Morris into an equally versed, yet fragile romantic foil for Carrey’s Russell. One of the biggest accomplishments of the stars (and certainly the screenwriters as well) is their ability to produce a comedy about a homosexual love affair in prison without once making the relationship feel cheap, trite, or cliche. While the entire movie is incredibly funny, it never gives in to any cheap material about homosexuality or even the gay community, at large. The story evolves at the perfect pace and never has any need or space to fit any banal, pedestrian humor about the couple’s sexual orientation into the grand scheme of things. Instead, the couple feels absolutely fitting as the hectic world that they have built around themselves speeds by them. Carrey and McGregor are adorable together and have you rooting for them as a team from the very get-go. The chemistry that they share and the duo that they so quickly become is what gives the film such an intense feeling of charm, without which the movie would certainly be lost.
The score and cinematography both ring true to the story at hand and guide everything along to create the perfect atmosphere for Carrey and McGregor’s basically two-man show. The true masterpiece of Phillip Morris‘ technical expertise, however, is the script. The writing team of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa have created an airtight screenplay that never lingers or moves too expediently. Instead, Ficarra and Requa’s screenplay moves at just the right pace to pack year’s worth of action into a movie under two hours leaving you wanting more while simultaneously tying up each and every possible loose end or tangential piece of the narrative. And while it would be easy to credit the story’s perfect pacing to the original book it was based off of, that simply is not the case. What Ficarra and Requa have accomplished is a story perfectly, succinctly, and genuinely told in the language of the cinema. Their story fully utilizes the cinematic medium, utilizing brilliant quick cuts, and edits to bring everything together. One of the best moments of the film occurs while the camera lingers on Carrey and McGregor, slow dancing in their cells while their neighbor cellmate gets beaten, offscreen, by a battalion of cops to beautiful music. It is an absolutely brilliant moment that is perfectly encapsulated through the meeting of imagery and sound. Something that the pages of a book simply cannot deliver.
I started this review out by stating that Phillip Morris makes the audience forget the type of movie they’re watching. While true that the audience may forget, I want to clarify that the movie itself NEVER forgets. I Love You Phillip Morris never stops succeeding as a superior comedy, it just ALSO succeeds as a genuine film. Phillip Morris is funny, touching, passionate, fulfilling, exciting, and extremely well put-together. Great acting and great writing come together to tell a great story in one of the best entries of 2010.