Great movies come from all around the world, and so do great DVDs and Blu-rays. Import This! is an irregular feature here at FSR that highlights discs and/or movies unavailable in the US that are worth seeking out for fans of fantastic cinema.
Jim Carrey was one of the biggest box-office draws in Hollywood once upon a time, but recent years have seen a perceived slide in popularity. ‘Perceived’ because his last two live-action comedies aren’t considered hits by many people, but they collectively grossed over $400 million worldwide. And yet his latest comedy, one that’s both critically acclaimed and the funniest film he’s done in years, can’t find a distributor in the US.
Steven Russell (Carrey) is a god-fearing, happily married family man. Except that he isn’t. A near-death experience forces him to re-evaluate his life and be true to who he really is… and that’s a gay man with flexible morals. Russell heads off to Miami, falls for a younger man, and proceeds to scam and con his way into a lifestyle that he can’t actually afford. His world crashes down when he’s arrested and thrown in jail, but his spirits are soon lifted when he meets and falls madly in love with Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor). His number one priority becomes staying in Morris’ life, and if that means using his conman skills to arrange transfers, early releases, new homes, and more, then that’s a risk he’ll happily assume for love.
I Love You Phillip Morris
Country of origin: USA
DVD Label: E1 Entertainment/UK
DVD Region: 2*
“A smile is a flower on your face.”
So how does a very funny film based on a unique true story with two major stars and a butt-load of critical acclaim after Sundance not receive a US release? The obvious argument is the content and story about two men in love with each other is just too frightening for US distributors. But aside from one ball slapping, doggy-style scene involving Carrey and another guy the “icky gay stuff” is limited to hand-holding, kissing, and the two stars making love-eyes at each other. But this is the same country (and industry) that gave Academy Awards to Brokeback Mountain and Milk not too long ago, so what’s changed?
I don’t have an answer here. But it is curious.
Luckily not everyone is as confused and/or worried as US distributors seem to be, which means I Love You Phillip Morris has gotten a release elsewhere. And it’s a well-deserved release too, as it’s not only a damn fine comedy it’s a fantastic movie period. Carrey and McGregor both give solid performances, but Carrey is the one who truly shines here. He narrates the story as well as stars in pretty much every scene, and it’s his best performance in years. His rubber face and contortionist’s body are on full display alongside acting skills he’s shown previously in films like Eternal Sunshine Of the Spotless Mind and Man On the Moon. Carrey remains one of the best physical comedians working today.
That’s not to say the movie plays as a straight <cough, cough> comedy though. There’s drama as well, and it’s evident from the very first scenes that find Russell dying in a hospital bed from AIDS before he flashes back to the story that led him there. The best love stories have at least a little tragedy, and this one is no different. There’s heartbreak and sadness, but there’s also Russell’s indomitable spirit and determination that exists as a combination of Catch Me If You Can‘s Frank Abagnale and Bottle Rocket‘s Dignan.
Writers Glenn Ficarra and John Requa are making their directorial debut here (they’re best known for writing Bad Santa), and it’s a solid success. They get strong performances from their two leads in roles that go against their respective career resumes, and the actors sell the most important aspect of the film… the love story between them. The film also does a great job balancing the tone between that romance, the madcap comedy, and the genuine drama inherent in the real-life story. I Love You Phillip Morris is smart film-making and it’s easily Carrey’s funniest and best film in over a decade. It’s a shame most of his American fans aren’t being given the chance to enjoy it.
DVD: The region 2 DVD from E1 Entertainment isn’t packed with extras, but it does have a fun and informative twelve-minute making-of that explores the origin of the film as well as the cast and crew’s motivations behind their work. There is also fourteen minutes worth of interviews with Carrey, McGregor, and Ficarra/Requa.
– Buy I Love You Phillip Morris on DVD from AmazonUK
*Note: I use a Phillips DVP-5990 region-free player. It’s currently available at Best Buy for under sixty bucks, and it has so far handled every DVD I’ve tossed at it including successfully enabling PAL format onto my NTSC television. Feel free to email me with any questions.