I Love You Phillip Morris (2010)

(April 25th) A Revised Look at a flimsy film:

After some consideration, and several responses both here and elsewhere, I thought I would clarify my review of this film.  I admit I committed the very faux pau I’ve railed against other reviews and critics – that of personalizing the movie experience with generalizations from the gut instead of putting the film to the stake and citing specifically how the film fails, succeeds or otherwise disenchants.  In I Love You Phillip Morris, the fundamental problem is a lack of interesting characters, a preposterous story (however much it is based on “true events and actual persons” and situational comedy scenarios that never fully deliver laughs or endearment.  This film feels like a waste of time in the sense that you don’t really have to pay attention to follow along.  Case in point – the initial cursory prison sequence that serves only to unite the characters; plot and character is not synonymous – some films achieve both in nearly every scene, this film accomplishes neither so often leaving the room for the proverbial can of beer or frozen lime pop and you don’t miss much.  This in and of itself fuels my tirade that follows, the at times (or perhaps mostly) vicious assault that I usually attempt to curtail here at Above the Line.  But in this case I found the only reward I might find was to aim both barrels at the film, pull the trigger until it went click, reload and fire again.

I Love You Phillip Morris operates on the assumption that we are going to like the story because however improbable, it is based on true characters and actual events.  Sadly, reality does not surpass fiction in this case as what amounts to two hours of silliness encased in the wrapper of a gay romantic comedy.  I get that.  I like the idea of pushing the limits of the typical romantic comedy – so much so that I did indeed approach this film with high hopes, elevated expectations and admittedly a fondness for both Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor that frequently as of late has turned to disappointment.  The problem here is that the gay factor is presented shockingly for effect and laughs then becomes something else – the search for laughs between gay lovers torn apart by dysfunctional, illegal obsessive compulsion for money, success and a lavish lifestyle is actually quite good. The trouble with a film that purports to function in the ‘middle space’ of comedy and drama invariable fails.  Consider the Adam Sandler film Punch Drunk Love – which Rodney reminds me.  I love that film because the funny operates with the drama not in place of it or because of it.  The humor is stylized and this is why it didn’t fare with the usual Sandler fans or the box office.  It’s a peculiar film to say the least but it knew what it was going in and you have to respect it for that.  I Love You Phillip Morris is confused – when are we supposed to care about these characters, their estranged relationship, the ignominious exploration of gay relationships strained not by society or prejudice but by actions that by their very nature deconstruct the meaning of togetherness, happiness and love – all the things that make us care about the characters, hope for them, root for them, and invest in their story.  This film insults the senses not because it fails cinematically but because the components that make up the film are paper-thin and after the credit sequence we can hardly remember who they were and why we cared in the first place.

(April 23rd) Back to my original review of the film:  

It’s much easier to write reviews about movies you hate.  Maybe hate is too strong a word. I should say something positive before staggering like a popcorn drunk hobo in the cinematic equivalent of a condom wrapper stuck to your sneaker as you leave the theater.

This isn’t the worse movie I’ve ever fast-forwarded through, and thankfully it’s not another banal and imbecilic Adam Sandler film, nor is it a mumblecore mud-sucker but half steps and stubbed-toes aside, this is not a watchable film.  To put it bluntly, miss this film like you were a wheat farmer out-running your wife and kids as a vast swarm of insidious, maniacal locusts are descending on the family farm.  Even if you find a free show in some run down, Pepsi-sticky floored, no stadium seating kind of week-old popcorn palace or your best friend invites you over to watch it with peach schnapps smoothies and kettle korn she/he made themselves, don’t do it.  Seriously, you could be cleaning the lint out of the dryer, putting a good dose of 409 on those funny yellow spots on your stove top that started out red, disinfecting your cheese and egg drawer in your fridge, anything.  I Love You Phillip Morris is unremarkable, unreliable, and uninteresting.  Jim Carrey‘s Über-white smile and gaunt features are unkind, a Hollywood mask of years in the face and weird millionaire actor-kinda skinny that must come from some special diet that would turn the rest of us blue without Photoshop.

Oh wait, it was a satire.  No, a parody.  Social commentary, that’s what the filmmakers intended it to be.  Parody is just another word like maybe economics, trigonometry, and global-warming.  I mean we know the words, we live with them every day but practical – that’s what I’m talking about.  Practical as in my economic situation sucks because I don’t have any green in my billfold.  Practical as in the applicable personal relationship you have with trigonometry – basically math that studies triangles and their various relationships – when was the last time a triangle had that much relevance in your everyday?  I don’t even want to talk about global-warming as it relates to the scientific consensus that anthropogenic global warming is occurring – I want that job, kind of like the meteorologists on the evening news who are really just glorified gypsies, only they dress better and don’t have those wicked head scarves and wandering eye or the crooked finger that looks like it would get caught up in all sorts of unpleasant things.  Oh, and then there’s the whole vagabond in wagon trains things – hard to forecast the weather from a cart with a mule in Fresno.

If you go so far as to listen to Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor on the DVD extras, you’d think they found some original scroll that Jesus Christ penned the ‘real’ ten commandments on, tucked away under some rock in a clay jar before Mason came along and made all that money with a glass variant with a shiny gold-colored lid.  Truthfully, I have to question Carrey and McGregor’s taste for lavishing such unwarranted praise on this haggard, dog-eared script the size, shape and color of excrement.  It had to have originated on toilet paper in the middle of the night, somewhere after carne asada.

Someone compared this film to Spielberg’s “Catch Me If You Can” and I suppose I concede to some similarities, though I didn’t think that much of DeCaprio as the super-sharp con-artist with the perfect white smile either.  Robert Mulligan’s film “The Great Impostor” has also been noted though I’d argue it’s tough to best Tony Curtis in his hay-day.  I Love You Phillip Morris operates on the singular premise that a homosexual love story about a likable con-artist is ingredients enough and original enough to stand out in a crowd of lesser, more traditional love stories.  Sadly the gay factor only lasts so long and the story wears thin five minutes after the homosexual card is revealed and shock value leaves the characters more like caricatures than fully realized people.  In the end we’re left with a generally dysfunctional and often manic disregard for morality and social responsibility that could as easily be chronicled temporarily on a chalk board in a civics class.

If you visit rottentomatoes.com you might even be convinced the film deserves a 71% rating, or that on imdb.com it is ranked 6.7/10.  Described as improbable, though based on a true story, Carrey is credited as delivering one of his best performances in years but one must beg the question, compared to what?  In all accounts, Carrey hasn’t delivered a good performance since Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind in 2004, though box office receipts at boxofficemojo.com might suggest otherwise.  At any rate, review aggregators are just that, a snapshot summation of opinions and while I use these sites regularly for my own pithy commentary and entertainment news, take them with a grain of salt.  Just because a bunch of people like something doesn’t mean you should too.

Do yourself a favor and avoid this movie like the public toilet seat that it is and spend your money on something that might actually give you a return on your investment – like a root canal.

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About rorydean

Rory Dean is a multi-medium artist, writer and new media strategist with a background as a creative consultant and technology liaison in the San Francisco Bay Area. His broad experiences and specialties include print-to-web publicity, promotions and design marketing using traditional and social media networks. As a motion pictures and television professional, his short films, productions and commercials have screened to domestic and international audiences. His connections to a diverse client base include artists, entertainers, corporations, non-profits and everyday people.. Dean is co-owner and founder of Dissave Pictures, a boutique production company focusing on audio, video, photography and multi-media designs. Dean's personal and professional background includes dreaming and avid notebook journaling, creative and copy writing, promotions and marketing, audio/video production, photography, videography, editing, web design and new media. He’s also a fan of collaboration and knows when to turn the reigns over, offer feedback, lead the team and step aside. His portfolio includes print, online, film, video, photography, graphic design and promotions. He’ll show you. He has a book and everything. "When not juggling various online worlds, I do a pretty good mime – but that’s another story."
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10 Responses to I Love You Phillip Morris (2010)

  1. Tom Clift says:

    This was a really entertaining read (although most of it had very little to do with the movie it seems). I really enjoyed I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS – did you simply not find it funny? And what of the dramatic side – I was actually quite touched by the film, especially thanks to McGregor’s performance

    • rorydean says:

      Hey Tom, thanks for dropping by and further for the questions. I’ve actually gone back and updated the review to address yours and others concerns about specificity and example. Admittedly I let my distaste for the film get in the way of my usual review style and while entertaining, I forgot the criticism part. I didn’t find it funny at all – the only scene, perhaps that gave me a chuckle was when Carrey was stuck in the sand trap, chopping away at the ball, lost in profanity and frustration. I was reminded of Bob Barker in that Sandler film. As I added in my review, I wanted more from the premise because I thought it had potential to be funny and smart. It was neither. I’m curious what you think of the review I wrote for Four Lions – a peculiar film that pokes a humorous finger at suicide bombers, if you can believe that.

      And lastly, I think what prevented me from caring was the flippant disregard for their relationship and while the filmmakers had Carrey’s character off in his scams I kept wanting to see them together and exploring their troubles, love, and estrangement.

      • Tom Clift says:

        I’m glad you took a second run at the review – although I still agree, I can understand and respect your points. I also had a look at your FOUR LIONS review (which was actually one of my favourite films from last year). Great stuff! Your point about the films “oddly contemporary” feel was an expecially good one.

      • Tom Clift says:

        (by “agree”, I actually meant “disagree” – I still really liked the film)

      • rorydean says:

        Agree to disagree. Exactly.

  2. Rodney says:

    Yeowch! Scathing words there Rory, although from the sounds of it not entirely undeserved. I have to say, as you alluded to in your review, I have read almost entirely good things about this film (and if they weren’t good, they weren’t bad either), so I came to this article with similar expectations.
    Do you think your dislike of this film stems from unrealized expectations of what to expect, perhaps? You weren’t too clear on exactly why the film didn’t “do” it for you, except to say it was the cinematic equivalent of bathroom sputum. Was it the script that didn’t get you, or the acting/casting? Or, as I suspect is closer to the truth, you thought the film was a one-trick pony with no second punch after an opening “the two protagonists are gay” gambit?
    I have to admit, I recently wrote a review for the Cameron Diaz film The Box, during which I found myself angry at being exposed to such a farcical example of a “thriller” (it goes up on fernbyfilms.com in June, so it’s a while away) and I can appreciate the harsh words when they’re warranted, but I didn’t detect any actual examples of what you didn’t like in this film.
    Was it boring? Was is unfunny or overtly skewed towards the liberal pro-everything mindset that flies in the face of logic? Or did you just go in with the thought of what the film SHOULD be that you were disappointed with what it turned out to be? This whole review just felt like a flailing against a film you didn’t like without explaining WHY you didn’t like it….

    And can I say, I too generally dislike Adam Sandler films, although I will always recommend Punch Drunk Love to anyone who’ll listen.

    • rorydean says:

      Hey Rodney – thanks for the thoughts. As I’ve explained elsewhere, I decided to revisit my review and added some additional thoughts. Actually, it might just be one of the longest reviews I’ve written. As I see it now, my trouble is that I allowed my gut reaction to muddy my criticism. I needed to provide both and I got lost up in feeling that the film had only accomplished one thing – robbing me of another two hours of my life. Please see my added comments in the review. I’d be curious to see how much I address your concerns and those of others who have reacted to what I wrote.

      In brief (if I can):

      The filmmakers took advantage of the fact Carrey and McGregor have a sizable following and that a gay themed romantic comedy could operate successfully on those merits alone. Sure, my expectations played into my overall disfavor but the fundamental building blocks of story and character were just not there. And examples, hopefully are now more evident. Boring, unfunny, improbable, superficial, etc., etc.

      Dido on Punch Drunk Love.
      cheers->

      • Rodney says:

        Yep, additional review points clarify what I suspected but didn’t read in the first iteration. It’s a bit of a surprise that this film isn’t that good, considering the talents of both leads – even if the core plot theme (gay dudes etc) will alienate some viewers (small minded folk that they are) and perhaps give this film a somewhat “one-joke comedy” feel. Carrey is usually pretty decent, even if he’s in a rubbish film (Yes Man, anyone?) and McGregor always gives 110% in everything he’s done since Shallow Grave. Still, you’ve more than adequately made your point on why this film isn’t great, and until I see it for myself, I can only nod in quiet assent.
        Great stuff!

      • rorydean says:

        I kept wanting to like the film for that very reason – two really talented guys playing against type in an off-beat story. Looking forward to hearing what you think-

  3. CMrok93 says:

    I had such a great time with this film. It’s tone was nice, and sweet, and watching Carrey just totally have the greatest time with a performance, by basically combining both his comedy and drama aspect, was just all a treat to watch. Nice Review!

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