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Film Review: I Love You Phillip Morris

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Just as the greatly underrated I Love You Phillip Morris (2009), finally receives a full Australian theatrical release on the 7th of April 2011,* the trailer for Jim Carrey's next feature film, Mr. Popper's Penguins (2011), based on the classic children's book, has just been released.

Unlike I Love You Phillip Morris, the forthcoming Mr. Popper's Penguins is a family feature film, which places Carrey in much safer territory (there is even a reference to a very famous In Living Colour skit in the trailer), as Carrey is in rubber-face mode, portraying an everyman in an unusual situation - a tried and true formula; Liar Liar (1997), Bruce Almighty (2003), Fun with Dick and Jane (2005) and Yes Man (2008).

These are all great crowd pleasing comedies, but Carrey is much more than a gifted comedian, he is a brilliant dramatic actor, and by my count he should have at least two Academy Awards by now, for his work in another underrated feature The Truman Show (1998), and in the acclaimed Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). Also in a perfect world, Carrey would have received more recognition for his wonderfully nuanced performance in Man on the Moon (1999). Despite no Oscar glory, Carrey has been nominated 6 times for the Golden Globe Best Actor award, and he has won two years in a row - for The Truman Show in 1999 and Man on the Moon in 2000.

Furthermore, whenever Carrey tries to portray a more ambiguous character, for example in The Cable Guy (1996) and The Number 23 (2007), audiences almost expectantly turn away, despite the fact that Carrey has been balancing comedic roles with dramatic roles his entire career. For example whilst Carrey appeared in cult comedies such as Once Bitten (1985), Peggy Sue Got Married (1986) and Earth Girls Are Easy (1988), he also portrayed an alcoholic in the 1992 TV Doing Time on Maple Drive, and appeared in a small role as a rock star in The Dead Pool (1988), but then came the successful In Living Comedy, a sketch comedy television series created and written by Keenen and Damon Wayans. After four seasons, In Living Colour ended and Carrey starred in three incredibly successful features over two years; Ace Ventura: Pet Detective in 1994 and The Mask and Dumb and Dumber in 1995. By 1996, Carrey was paid $20 million dollars to star in The Cable Guy, a sum which was unprecedented for a 'comic' actor. However the dark comedy did not do well with critics or at the box office.

Another comedy, somewhat in a similar vein to The Cable Guy, was Me, Myself & Irene (2000), as Carrey portrayed a troubled man who suffers a psychotic breakdown, however the depiction of dissociative identity disorder was played for gags in the Farrelly brothers film. In I Love You Phillip Morris, Carrey once again portrays a troubled man, but his personal crisis, is not related to his mental state - rather it is all in the name of love.

Carrey portrays real-life US con artist Steven Jay Russell, who seemingly appeared to have the picture perfect life - a stable job as a police officer, a beautiful wife and was well liked in the community. But Russell was living a lie, in fact he is a gay man.

After a near death experience, Russel decides he no longer wants to lead a double life, and instead moves to South Beach with his boyfriend Jimmy (Rodrigo Santoro). However money is tight and Russel finds he has a 'gift' for cheating and scamming - and through his acts of deceit, it is also revealed he is actually a very clever man. Russel's crimes are notably victimless, but he doesn't seem to know where to stop, and eventually his crimes become all too frequent and he is sent to prison.

Whilst in prison, self-assured Russel meets Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor), a shy, gentle young man, whose only crime was failing to return a rental car. Almost immediately Russel and Morris fall in love, but Morris is to be sent to another prison. Heartbroken, Russel desperately tries to find a way for them to be together again.

Jim Carrey as Steven Russell and Ewan McGregor as Phillip Morris in I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS, directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa. Photo Credit: Patti Perret

This romance/comedy/drama is led by a stellar performance from Carrey, who manages to portray Russel as a bright, intelligent man, who genuinely cares for Morris, as well as his former wife. It is a brave multifaceted performance. McGregor should equally be applauded, with his hair bleached blonde and his voice sweet and charming, he is unrecognisable - miles away from how he appears in the Long Way Down. The tone of the feature film is fast and fun, but the film has real heart.

This feature film was adapted from the book I Love You Phillip Morris: A True Story of Life, Love, and Prison Breaks by Steve McVicker and marks the directorial debut of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, who wrote the script for the magnificent Bad Santa.

I Love You Phillip Morris is Rated MA15 and will open in selected cinemas on April 7, 2011.

*I Love You Phillip Morris screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) in 2010.
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Why? This is one of Jim Carrey's best performances in years
When: From April 7, 2011
Where: Selected cinemas only
Cost: Check with local cinema
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