Against a backdrop of perfect blue, cotton-cloudy sky, we’re promised that the story about to unfold actually happened. ‘It really did’! We don’t know it yet, but the dichotomy of the farcically extraordinary tale alongside its moving trueness is surely the key to I Love You Phillip Morris’s magic.
Jim Carrey as Steven Russell rejoices his way through the opening scenes, introducing us to his good and rosy wife, Debbie – played by Leslie Mann – and his righteous, sunny and barbecue-rich life. Steven is living and loving every inch of the American Dream. That is, until his biological mother doesn’t want to know him, he quits the police force and a lively, sweaty sex scene reveals that it has not only been his wife underneath him but a man bent in front of him. When life turns out to be other than a walk in a lush and flower-filled park, Steven chooses fraud as, conversely, a way to be himself . Even beautiful boyfriend, Jimmy, played by Rodrigo Santoro, can’t deter him from the scamming and general naughtiness Steven uses to pay for his new, openly gay and therefore – as he finds it – appropriately lavish lifestyle.
If you thought those twists and topics were already enough to complete a Carrey film collection, it’s actually in prison where the central narrative begins, in the form of fellow inmate, Ewan McGregor’s Phillip Morris. Perhaps another untruth – that Steven’s newfound wonder is delicate and perishable. In reality, it’s Phillip that has Steven’s trousers around his ankles quicker than Steven can say, ‘I love you, Phillip Morris!’ Which he will do, before you know it. But our luxury-lover will not give up his trickery, even when his new relationship flourishes outside the prison bars, apparently feeling that the opulence gained from his professional swindling is his right and that of his blonde and blue-eyed boy. We’re brought back to this conviction (excuse the pun) again and again as Steven’s deceit – towards Phillip included – deepens and finally darkens.
Where it’s meant to be, the film is hugely funny, enriched with content and fantastic acting from both Carrey and McGregor. It’s a little like a cappuccino; frothy and smooth throughout, sweet if you’re that way inclined, with a shot of something special at the end: real, true emotion. And that’s what we’re left with, the essence of the farce is the genuine feeling. Even if it weren’t true, I’d still believe it.