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on 15 April 2014
I Love You Phillip Morris is a unique film; I have never seen any other where it can move you to tears - because this is how moving Ewan McGregor is in one scene in particular - and have this so close to very funny things going on. Yet it hits both notes in a very real way. The plot is preposterous, some of the details are in quite bad taste, yet it is apparently what actually happened to Steven Russell who was, as the time of filming, still in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day for - again apparently - having run rings around the legal system in Texas. As the ultimate con-man he had posed as a lawyer, top finance executive, terminal Aids patient, and many other things, at one point passing out through the prison infirmary doors by dyeing his uniform the right colour using multiple ink cartridges ... Part of the effect lies in the incredulity one feels in watching these schemes one after another, given brilliant comic projection by Jim Carrey. At the same time it is a gay love story between him and Phillip Morris, a sweet man he meets in prison, and is really quite touching in these terms.
This leads you to ask why Russell felt the need to go on with this - after all, he seemed genuinely to love Morris and would always come back to him like a maximum strength magnet even if it meant exposing himself to possible arrest. All one can say is, he did, a bit like addicts of other kinds. At times the film feels too vulgar but this is all part of the effect. Linked to this is the fact that it feels a bit unmoored, not to say unhinged, in that it shows the world too much through the eyes of Russell, who has a narrative voice-over. Ewan McGregor is fantastic and gives the film its real heart, however his character is too much a passive victim to anchor the film at all. Without intending to, it comes across as a critique of American life in that it has no aesthetic value at all (emphasised by rather grating music) and shows a lifestyle based on money that is really quite vacuous, except that the love does seem very real. It now seems comparable to Behind The Candelabra in terms of the extravagance and also the psychology of the central relationship, but that film has a better perspective on what it shows. It may be partly because Liberace was more normal, as shown, than Russell in this film. Nevertheless the anarchic spirit makes it a bit like a tornado in a super-luxury fast food outlet.