Steven Russell (Jim Carrey) is gay. This wouldn’t be a problem, except that on the surface he’s a family man with a child and an unsuspecting wife (Leslie Mann). But an unfortunate car accident that lands him in a hospital, forces Steven to come clean and finally enjoy life at its fullest. For him this means wearing flashy clothes, partying and dating a handsome young boyfriend (Rodrigo Santoro) – and spending lavishly everywhere he goes. Unfortunately his job proves unable to sustain this newly opulent lifestyle, and Russell resolves to life of crime. Using the skills obtained through police work and years of trying to track down his birth mother (he learned of being adopted as a kid), Russell employs all kinds of fraud, until … he inevitably gets caught and arrested.
But prison proves to be the best thing that ever happened to Russell, since that’s where he meets the man of his dreams – shy and gentle Philip Morris (Ewan McGregor). He manages to get himself put into the same cell with Morris and the two enjoy a brief honeymoon. Finally Russell gets himself released, and then poses as lawyer to promptly free Morris . Once on the outside, the couple finally can start a life together. But Russell still has no desire to lay low. Using fabricated credentials, he receives a job as a CFO at a big company, and proceeds to steal extensively from it, investing in a life of luxury for himself and his lover, until his bosses take notice.
A movie centered on a gay romance (in a much more graphic, and less serious, issue-ridden way than “The Brokeback Mountain”) was destined for a controversial reception, hence the limited release across the world. Now I do admit the film leaves an awkward, kind of uncomfortable feeling, but it has to do more with the fact that its stars such popular mainstream actors. It’s especially true in case of Carrey, who frequently starred in family movies and is a favourite with the mass audience. Seeing him in a steamy sex scene with another man (not McGregor) may come as a shock, especially to the more conservative part of his fans. Perhaps the film would have gotten better reception if the unknowns were starring – though media exposure in that case would have be much less significant too.
But what I really mean is that those would miss the film for its “gay” component will also miss out on a great story of a very real person. The real Steven Jay Russell is a man with an IQ of 163, who came to be known as “Houdini” and “King Con” for his numerous cons, ranging between quite trivial and absolutely incredible. They allowed him to escape prison multiple times – without using any external help. Among his famous tricks were impersonating a judge to decrease his bond, dying his prison uniform with green marker – to pose as a doctor and, most shocking of all – convincing prison medics he had AIDS (!!!), and later informing prison personnel he had died. Currently Russell is serving a life term in a maximum security jail – a sentence widely believed unjust for an absolutely not violent man.
On the whole the film is beautifully acted, even if Carrie at times reduces to his typically hysterical comic stunts which are kind of the same in every movie. McGregor’s soft-spoken and sentimental Philip Morris is somehow more convincing. And the soundtrack is just wonderful, helping to create movie’s comedy dynamic, and giving it a light uplifting feel, even in the more dramatic moments. Most of all, “I Love You Philip Morris” is a story of a man, who loved the game too much to stop, even if, subconsciously realizing, that sooner or later it will end badly for him. And of course, a lot of what he did – he did for love. He wanted to give his boyfriend only the best, and, to be fair, there are not that many men out there who would try so hard for a woman.