Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Hollywood’s Box-Office Secret

By Margaret Clayton

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Two years after its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, “I Love You, Phillip Morris” has finally made it to our local theaters. The question is, why the delay?

Europa Corp Mad Chance

Europa Corp Mad Chance

Two years since “Milk” and another three since “Brokeback Mountain,” one would think American movie-goers have grown in their acceptance of homosexual relationships on the big screen. Although the romantic plot-line is between two men, Steven Russell (Jim Carrey) and Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor), the driving force of this film is the conman heists put on by Russell to successfully lead the perfect life with his partner.

Russell’s character is brutally honest about his life choices, starting the film with a voice-over while he lies in his deathbed about what got him there. As he recounts his tale, Russell’s schemes are so outrageous that one gets sucked into the film, eager to see where it will blow up in his face or how he will manage to escape the law once more. A more controversial element of the film arises when former cop Russell dupes the authorities time and again, manipulating the system in the name of love.

The love he is trying to protect begins in prison, Russell’s typical residence, in the library where blond-haired, blue-eyed Morris is trying to find some law information to help his friend with a healthcare problem. This calm, sweet, sensitive act draws Russell to him, ready to take on the role of protector and lover. There is the high school, sticky-sweet passing notes image of courtship, but inside prison walls there is always a layer of something more serious, a window into how real the characters’ desperation is to be free from the yard, free to live together.

Throughout the film, stereotypes are being reinforced and crushed all the time. A gay man who cannot help but buy everything he sees (Russell). A devoted Texan housewife, Debbie (the overlooked Leslie Mann), who prays to Jesus every night for the loving man in her life. Favors are done in prison for the right amount of cash, or an equivalent sexual favor. Gay men can’t play golf. The legal system is filled with jargon that even the lawyers do not understand, but cases are won or lost anyway.

The most disappointing aspect of the film is that there are several loose ends left undeveloped. The audience is left in suspense as Russell’s daughter is left to deal with her father’s homosexuality as he moves to Miami to pursue a happy, sunny, dog hairdresser lifestyle. Additionally, the audience is presented with Russell’s insecurity about being unable to keep those he loves from leaving him, stemming from his mother’s abandonment of him. These side plots are left to the side to make room for the unbelievable chain of events, comedic and sad, whose real power is their truth.

Maybe theatergoers expected to see an offbeat romantic comedy with Carrey (The Mask) as the masterful caper once again, and McGregor (Moulin Rouge) as the enchanted lover, but many may be shocked to find such an outrageous story can be true! Russell and Morris are real people whose jaunts took them in and out of hospitals and prisons throughout the 1980s and 90s. Surprisingly, Russell can keep up these escapades that break the law and hurt a number of people, yet still manage to win over the audience with the charm and belief that it is all for the romance.

Margaret Clayton can be reached at [email protected]

1 Comment

One Response to “Hollywood’s Box-Office Secret”

  1. Harriet on January 31st, 2011 11:04 am

    I loved your review. You do have a knack of getting us pulled in. I’ll have to see the movie now. H

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