*I Love You Phillip Morris (R)
Kimball's Peak Three
A car accident, a coming-out and a lifetime of cons, jail-breaking and death-faking. By the end of I Love You Phillip Morris, you totally forget about its opening claim.
"This really happened," the text reads on one screen. Then, on the next: "It really did." But unless you're someone fond of bitching that certain things could happen only in the movies, the story's verity hardly impacts what turns out to be possibly the most joyful film yet about a convict.
Steven Russell (Jim Carrey) was a church-going family man in Texas, a cop who was married to a lovely, devout woman (Leslie Mann) and whose biggest issue seemed to be that not only was he adopted, but his biological mother had sons older and younger than he — so, you know, it was just him she had a problem with. He uses police records to find her, and she wants nothing to do with him, which makes him sad.
But not as sad as the fact that he was, as his voice-over tells us, "gay gay gay gay gay." A serious car accident serves as his "epiphany," and Steven quickly leaves his wife and moves to Florida with a lover.
Under hypersaturated Sunshine State skies, though, Steven finds that "being gay is really expensive." So he begins another life of fraud, this time staging accidents and bilking insurance companies out of wads of cash so he can "live high on the gay hog." (No, "gay" is not a term writers-directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa shy away from.) He's eventually caught and sent to prison.
There he meets cute Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor), a soft-spoken, honey-haired wisp of a man whose charge stems from an overdue rental car. (Yes, it is possible to meet-cute in jail, in this case the prison library, where their getting-to-know-yous are often shushed.) The attraction is immediate, and soon Steven conspires to make them cell mates — and, eventually, wins them both parole, posing as a lawyer. Once free, they live life on the right side of the law for a while. But then there's that gay hog again.
Though I Love You Phillip Morris is at its heart a love story, it's difficult to keep the whys of Steven's shenanigans in mind when the hows are so jaw-dropping — if you think faking it as a lawyer is next to impossible, wait until you see Steven's grand finale. Carrey is exuberant and, of course, funny in his most layered role to date, half slick con artist and half hopeless romantic, his rubber-faced goofiness winnowed to always-smiling eagerness. Steven's schemes seem simultaneously easy and inconceivable, and Carrey's charisma ensures that you're always rooting for the character to pull one over on others, again and again.
Meanwhile, McGregor's Phillip mostly sits back and marvels with twinkling eyes. A breezy, tropical soundtrack further lubricates it all.
Ficarra and Requa, who previously teamed up on Bad Santa, not only use the words "gay," "fag" and "homosexual" with abandon, they also refuse to censor Steven and Phillip's love. Carrey and McGregor kiss, pet and carry on like any leading couple in a romantic comedy would, their fame never taking you out of the moment or making the characters' affection seem unnatural. The real Steven Russell, if he weren't presently serving a 144-year sentence, would be proud.