Wednesday, 24 March 2010
I kinda Love You Phillip Morris
Its taken me a while to get my head around I Love You Phillip Morris (ILYPM). The film tries to be so many different things during its fairly brief running time that I imagine reactions are going to be all over the place. This is obviously intentional on the part of the filmmakers and I think its a mark of their skill that they largely keep control of the tone and pace throughout.
ILYPM is a love story. And a prison movie. And a con movie, And an outrageous John Waters-esque comedy, And defiantly, sleazily, gloriously gay. It's also, quite implausibly, based on true events. Getting any one of those elements drastically wrong would have destroyed the picture. And yet the directors maintain a level of sustained anarchy which never becomes wearying. And though some elements work better than others, it feels stylistically coherent which is something of a minor miracle.
In a lot of respects, tonally, it reminds me of Precious. One of the issues that some people had with Precious was its lurches from genre to genre. I admit this is a problem, I also had with the film. I think ILYPM navigates its tonal changes with more confidence but never hits the formidable dramatic heights of Precious. This isn't necessarily a criticism. Mo'Nique's final monologue is a masterclass and one of the finest scenes in the last decade. In ILYPM, I wonder how viewers will react to the change in tone which happens in the third act. I loved the first hour. It was hilarious, casually disreputable and filled with clever moments. It also has moments of surprising tenderness woven through. There is a fantastic moment not long after Carry and McGregor first meet when they dance together in their cell while their neighbour is violently restrained by guards. It balances romanticism and slapstick with real skill. The third act takes a hard, brutal turn and I wonder how many viewers will be able to take that final stretch. I respect the hell out of the filmmakers for pushing it as far as they did.
This is a film in which the level the actors pitch their work is as important as the more technical elements. I have slightly mixed feelings about Ewan McGregor. He uses the same southern accent as he had in Big Fish and it just sounds phony. I don't buy it for a moment. He's very good in the last half hour but for me, his accent is a barrier to those early crucial scenes where he develops his relationship with Jim Carrey. Carrey, on the other hand, gives another one of those performances which periodically remind us what a fearless, gifted actor he can be, He invests everything into this role and carries off the different emotional states of his character with real skill. He risks a lot more with this role then he did with Eternal Sunshine or Truman Show,. ILYPM demands that he use his wackier, mainstream persona and then twist and complicate it in unexpected and quite brilliant ways. There is nothing genteel or tortured about Carrey's homosexuality in this film. It is out, loud, proud and I can't think of another actor at his level who would risk doing it.
The supporting cast is great including the peerless Leslie Mann. Mann should have been Oscar nominated for Knocked Up (along with Paul Rudd). Here, she is effortlessly funny and sympathetic as Carrey's fundamentalist ex-wife.
I am shocked in some respects that this film got made. Shocked yet delighted. O could imagine that some of my gay friends will have a problem with it. But there is something refreshingly mental about the whole project which gives a genuine sense of originality and artistic anarchy into the mainstream. ILYPM isn't perfect but it throws a medium sized cherry bomb into what is acceptable in a cineplex and more importantly, what a major Hollywood star will be prepared to do.