I Like You Phillip Morris
I Love You Phillip Morris
Dirs: John Requa & Glenn Ficarra
It occasionally happens, for reasons I’m not privy to, that a film will get a major release here in Taiwan before anywhere else in the world (same thing happened with The Dark Knight, which came out here on the Thursday before the Friday of everywhere else); for that release to come more than a month before the U.S. release, though, is quite surprising to me. Although it does make sense for Taiwan to be selected as the lead Asian market for what is a thoroughly, unabashedly gay love story — while I have no specific proof I can use to back this up, Taiwan appears to have the largest gay community in Asia, and certainly one of the most generally tolerant societies (oh wait, I do have proof — it says on Wikipedia that “the most recent (Pride) parade, held in October 2009, attracted approximately 25,000 participants, making it the largest gay pride event in Asia).
But of course all that should be neither here nor there (though it undoubtedly will be the main focus when it gets its wide U.S. release) — when you’re discussing a movie it should always be centred solely around the merits of the movie, not whether it’s a ‘hetero’ movie or a ‘homo’ movie or a ‘xeno’ movie (yes, there have been some xenosexual movies).
In that vein, I would have to say this is a very decent movie that is going to get killed by its own marketing. Because the distributors are probably going to shy away from the love-story aspects of the film out of a fear that it would hurt the box office, it seems like they’re going to try and market it as a comedy, sort of in a ‘The Birdcage‘ kind of way; I have the idea that they feel audiences would shy away from the film if they realized it’s actually a very dramatic love story with merely some funny bits here and there. And maybe they’re right — we are talking about general audiences here; maybe ‘the family unit’ can handle gay themes in strictly campy ways, but they would get uncomfortable seeing men actually expressing love for each other and kissing like they mean it (although after Brokeback Mountain — made by a Taiwanese director, I should add — maybe that bridge has already been crossed as well).
At any rate, regardless of how the film fares monetarily, Jim Carrey can at least hold his head up high in that this is undoubtedly the best performance of his career (along with maybe Man on the Moon). He’s always been annoying when he’s been predominately stupid (Ace Ventura), and not often fully convincing when going for full-on drama (The Majestic), but succeeded, like in MotM, when he’s been able to use a mix of both, and of course that’s what he gets to do here. Playing notorious real life con-man Steven Jay Russell, a man with (at least in the movie) a conflicted past and big heart, gives him the opportunity to move from passionate to playful, sly to silly, in such a way that he takes control without being overpowering, and the pathos he generates, while slightly forced, feels honestly come by.
Ewan McGregor, as the Phillip Morris of the title (no relation to the tobacco company), is also quite good in his supporting role as Carrey’s sweet and gentle love interest, and it’s the emotional interactions between these two which really drive the film forward. The script is solid, in terms of the plotting and dialogue, though it does suffer a bit from, as I mentioned earlier, the pathos being slightly forced; they really push the idea that ‘everything he did, he did it for love.’ Which probably has seeds of truth in it, but of course, when judging the way a movie works, even if you can accept getting hit over the head with something, you’re still going to have that slight bruising afterwards, and so that’s how I would have to sum up my reaction to the film: good, but slightly bruising. It’s definitely worth seeing, especially for Carrey’s and McGregor’s performances, but be prepared for some smushiness (is that a word?).