“I Love You Phillip Morris” is a tricky film to decipher. Garnering unnecessary attention for its homosexual content, the picture is actually more of a fleet-footed con artist valentine, paying reverence to a master of deception, Steven Jay Russell. A comedic excursion into the limits of personal freedom and the miracle of love, the picture is a skilled effort of constant surprise, led wonderfully by Jim Carrey, who gives a blessedly respectful performance that mingles pleasingly with laughs and shock.
Steven (Jim Carrey) is a seemingly happy family man living a life of service as a local cop. When a car accident clears his head of domestic obligation, Steven goes on to embrace his suppressed homosexuality, finding the new lifestyle murder on his bank account. Embarking on a series of profitable con games, Steven is soon caught and sent to prison, where he quickly masters the system of favors and revenge. Into his life comes Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor), a younger inmate who takes an immediate shine to Steven’s odd sense of confidence. The two become lovers, developing an unbreakable bond that’s tested when the state endeavors to separate the two. Slipping back into his skills of deception, Steven makes a grand effort to return to Phillip’s arms, hoping their love can be rekindled, despite his addiction to role-playing in massive acts of fraud.
I suppose there’s to be some expectation of bite when the screenwriters of “Bad Santa” (Glenn Ficarra and John Requa) decide to make their directorial debut. However, “I Love You Phillip Morris,” despite many opportunities to treat the characters from an acidic perspective, keeps the shenanigans amazingly light and sporadically emotional. The premise is familiar (think of it as the gay cousin of “Catch Me if You Can”), but the tone stands at attention, weaving between broad acts of deception and intimate declarations of love between these men, who’ve finally found a sense of peace from their hectic lives in each other’s arms.
I Love You” isn’t a farce, despite Carrey’s occasional (and welcome) rascally business, but more on the metered side, permitting the actor time to find a passion within Steven, instead of playing his games of fraud as calculated opportunities for the rubber-faced one to pratfall his way around the frame. It’s a fantastic performance from Carrey, who expresses a knotted desperation here that keeps the film moving along through extended confidence games and tense moments of awareness, as Steven happily engages in troublemaking to boost his financial appeal, only to find himself eventually stymied and on the run from the law. Carrey tones down his primary colors and expresses a compulsion within Steven that urges him to sustain his commitment to Phillip at any cost, even taking him down a dark path of medical complication. McGregor is unexpectedly gentle here as the prized lover, but Carrey elevates the episodic structure of the screenplay, communicating Steven’s heartfelt pull toward illegal activities and his sense of loyalty, providing needed laughs along the way.
The AVC encoded image (1.78:1 aspect ratio) presentation is an explosion of color. An unexpected development, really. Dealing with a semi-dark subject matter, the cinematography reaches for the sky, offering the BD viewing event a rich assortment of bold colors, all nicely separated, with some truly evocative environments, amped to a delightful degree (lighting is outstanding and well-preserved). Costumes also benefit from the hefty hues, with yellow prison jumpsuits popping right off the screen. Shadow detail struggles some, with low-light encounters fighting contrast issues, losing fine textures along the way. Clarity is generally good, picking up the particulars of prison signage and set design nuances, while close-ups reveal a fantastic read of wrinkles and emotions.
The 5.1 DTS-HD sound mix holds the tonal changes of the movie with confidence, leaping around with a vigorous track that respects the comedic energy of the performers. Dialogue exchanges are offered up crisp and clean, provided frontal movement to solidify exposition, while some of the more slapstick encounters are pushed around in the surrounds. A few scenes benefit from a pleasing echo to convey cavernous locations. Atmospherics are generally convincing, with prison activity a primary audio element, supplying voices and metal clanks all around the listener. Scoring maintains its jubilant position, winding around the mix without stepping on the voices. Low-end lacks a sufficient presence.
English, English SDH, and Spanish subtitles are offered.
The feature-length audio commentary with writer/directors John Requa and Glenn Ficarra, producers Andrew Lazar and Far Shariat, chief lighting technician Max Pomerleau, and director of photography Xavier Perez Grobet is a highly informative and wonderfully entertaining chat from a good chunk of the filmmaking team. The directors remain in charge during the conversation, but the group effort is felt, with everyone delighting in the antics of the film while staying focused on the task in hand. There’s plenty of chatter about the New Orleans locations, working with the hyper antics of Jim Carrey (who performed pratfalls with a cracked rib), and some critical info shared about the film’s testing process. The commentary never lacks energy and remains ripe with amusing backstage info, especially when talking about the trials of low-budget filmmaking. It’s a fulfilling listen.
“Deleted Scenes” (16:47) consist primarily of tiny character pieces, opening Steven’s world up just a little further. Two key moments are offered: a storm sequence with Steven and Phillip on a boat in the middle of the ocean, and an extended look at Steven’s time with his first boyfriend.
“The Making of ‘I Love You Phillip Morris’” (11:52) is a standard-issue BTS featurette, with cast and crew interviews offering thoughts on motivation, story, and on-set admiration. It’s always entertaining to see Carrey in the moment, with a good amount of the on-set footage helping to emphasize the filmmaking effort.
A Red Band Internet Trailer, Red Band Theatrical Trailer, and Green Band Theatrical Trailer are included.
Requa and Ficarra keep the feature frothy, carried forward by a bouncy score from Nick Urata, while slowly revealing a disarming sincerity. There’s a confidence with the material that’s heartening, sustaining the film’s entertainment value while taking a few darkly comic detours, one that leads to a wicked, bravely tasteless third-act twist. “I Love You Phillip Morris” is a difficult film to encapsulate quickly, with the picture’s challenging narrative and peculiar funny bone better experienced in motion rather than recounted.