Friday, January 7, 2011

I Hate You Jim Carrey: And Other Reasons I Didn't Want to See this Movie

It's true. It's all true.

Okay, maybe HATE is too strong a word. More accurately you might say that I never GOT why people so adamantly loved Jim Carrey, this overly-goofy comedian whose career has surprisingly not been derailed by several missteps over the course of his now thirty years of acting. What I hated the worst about seeing him in anything was that he COULD be funny, and then go completely over the top in a way that I thought ruined the joke. Fortunately for him, many people disagree, and while he's far from the box office draw he was back in the nineties, he's still one of the hardest working comedians in Hollywood, and while I may not be his biggest fan, I have to at least respect what he's done and the awards he's been recognized with. But that doesn't mean I want to go out of my way to see one of his films, either.

Who knew Rodrigo Santoro had a side job as "The Situation"?
So you can imagine my surprise when, this past Wednesday, I was checking out film times online and was disturbed to find that there was not ONE film available that I had not either seen or had more than a tiny interest in. Blue Valentine was at the top of my list, but hadn't come to town yet. Country Strong wasn't coming out until the weekend. And what the heck is Fei Cheng Wu Rao II, anyway? So it was with some trepidation that I decided to see what my friend Dan (he of the Southland Tales recommendation) had been calling his favorite film of 2010, I Love You Phillip Morris. Starring Jim Carrey.

As The Wire teaches us, there are only two days in prison: The day you go in, and the day you come out
Carrey plays real-life conman Steven Jay Russell, notorious for his uncanny ability to escape prisons. Over the course of the film, Steven becomes a conman to fund his excessive lifestyle, gets sent to prison for the whole conman "thing", enters a homosexual relationship with the Ewan McGregor as the titular Phillip Morris, then tries to build a relationship with Morris outside of prison walls, only to fall back on old habits. In all this Steven is portrayed as both a shrewd and conniving con artist and prison escapist and as a man who would do anything for the people in his life who he cares for.

"Ah wish ah knew how ta quit yoo"
What's surprising about this film is that while it could have easily traipsed down that road into silliness for the sake of silliness, I Love You Phillip Morris displays a good amount of heart, even if that heart is seemingly displayed most often by the film's criminal lead. In fact, many of the crimes Stephen commits over the course of the film are supposedly blamed on his need to fund luxurious lifestyles for he and his lovers, especially Morris. Sure, there's plenty of crude gay sex jokes - enough to perhaps make a whole second film - but thankfully they don't make the whole movie. While a few scenes go a bit to far in an attempt to be serious and tear-jerking, the film's excellent humor manages to remain valid throughout the story's arc and manages to keep even the more reserved viewers entertained. Also, this film might be the first film in recent memory that actually effectively uses voice over dialogue to enhance the story. Usually, when a film gets a voice-over, its because the story is so weak that you need guidance to move the film forward. Here, it's more of a friendly muse that takes the journey with you.

Flowers? How gauche!
The acting was actually quite good, despite this being a Carrey vehicle. Okay, to be honest, Jim Carrey wasn't at all bad here. His Stephen Russell is immensely likable, somewhat inspiring and laughably goofy, a mix that would usually result in confusion and shrugged shoulders, but actually works out fairly well here. As I mentioned before, Carrey was provided excellent dialogue and jokes, but only he had the timing to make it all consistently humorous and entertaining. That I could even walk away from the theater uncertain how to feel about a multiple-convicted felon speaks volumes to his performance. While I thought he still exhibited a bit of over-the-topness that detracted slightly from the film's delivery, it wasn't enough to say I didn't like him here. But I actually thought he was overshadowed by a very good McGregor, who plays the effeminate and light-hearted Phillip Morris. Owning the role, the worst thing I can say about McGregor is that despite having his name in the title, he was far too small a presence in the actual film, so dominated by Carrey is the plot. Former Lost refugee Rodrigo Santoro does a decent job as Jimmy, a former flame of Stephen's. He's not given much, but occasionally is given a chance to shine. Better off is Leslie Mann as Stephen's former wife an the mother of his child. She's really only given much to do in the beginning, but she remains a presence throughout the film and I really liked what they did with the character, even if it might not have been very realistic overall.

Fantasizing about a human centipede...
The film does suffer a few flaws. Some things are a bit unrealistic, but this is not surprising as in most "based on true story" films there are often exaggerations made to make the story more entertaining. The film seems to want to be serious at odd times, and some of the more serious scenes feel out of place in such a comedic film. And one of the film's final lines, stating Stephen Jay Russell was an embarrassment to the state of Texas "and Governor George Bush" seems like an obvious ploy to make him more likable in the eyes of the more liberal viewers who are most likely to be watching this movie. Finally, I thought the gay themes were a bit cliche, with stereotypical performances in the gay roles not deviating from what one might expect from them (note that I don't say they are inaccurate, simply stereotypical).

Yes, it's Carrey and McGregor... for 93 minutes
In the end, it doesn't matter what I think about I Love You Phillip Morris, or for that matter what anyone else thinks. The film had trouble finding distributors in the US for more than a year and has struggled mightily in limited release capacity where it has shown. A forthcoming plan to expand the number of theaters showing the film seems like a risk at best and foolhardy at worst. But it does have one big thing going for it: It's already turned a profit playing overseas. Releasing in Europe, Japan and Taiwan early in 2010, the film has already grossed $18 million, much more than it's purported $13 million budget. So you see? No matter whether I like it or not, anything they do now is simply money in the bank. That said, I did thoroughly enjoy this film, even if I thought it was nowhere near the top of my 2010 movies. If you don't feel comfortable with a title that so flagrantly lets its pride flag stand at attention, you won't like this film. Period. But everyone else should get a chuckle at this film's humor and charming personality, as it may go down as one of 2010's most underrated titles.


jimmygerms said...

never sure if your "shout-outs" to me are kudos or you just taking the piss. Either way, I'M FAMOUS BITCHES!!!

Anonymous said...

Looking beyond his roles in comedy, Jim Carrey gave an outstanding performance in 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.' He also was great in 'The Truman Show'...and of course 'Ace Ventura.'