There is nothing I want to see less than Jim Carrey have sex. I didn’t think I was alone in this feeling. And yet, that’s what this film, which, by the way, is in the top most rented movies, decides to open with. Don’t worry, gentle readers, the movie improves from there, but it’s a bit of a bumpy ride.
Let me fill you in on a few things I wish I had known before I started watching this movie. First, it’s not a tell-all expose of the smoking industry, a love letter to cigarettes, or anything else that the name “Phillip Morris” might suggest. Literally, the main character, Steven Jay Russell (Jim Carrey) loves a man named Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor). Second, Steven Jay Russell is a real human being and this is a movie based on his life in the 1980s and 1990s. Phillip Morris is also a real human being. The story has been fictionalized for the movie, but, there’s some reality there. Third, this is a romantic comedy. It is not a fly-by-your-pants comedy, the type of comedy that I usually associated with Jim Carrey, nor is it a thrilling action movie packed with chases, as might be suggested by Steven Jay Russell’s life story.
I could try to give a simple plot summary, but it’s hard to do with a movie like this one. The two driving forces are Steven’s experiences as a con man and his deep, real, constant love for Phillip. At its core, this movie is a love story, but it’s dressed up in the flashy and exciting tinsel of Steven being a con man, of lavish lifestyles, and of constant back-and-forth between Steven and the police. Like many real love stories, no one learns anything and there’s no closure, but it’s a hell of a ride.
Overall, I’d say that this movie succeeds. It’s a good one. There are only about four and a half characters in the whole thing, but when one of them is Steven, that’s pretty much all you need. Fortunately for this film, Jim Carrey actually does an exceptional job as the sweet but deeply conniving Steven. He so often gets cartoonish and overdone, but here, he plays the role with a startling simplicity and sweetness. Ewan McGregor is wonderful, as usual, and brings a lot of depth to a character with surprisingly little story.
When the two of them declare love for each other, I started feeling Emotions. And given how this movie began, with penis clouds and awkward sex, I was not expecting to feel even the least bit moved.