Posted by: Kristen Hicks | August 31, 2011

Texas Movies: I Love You Phillip Morris

While this wasn’t on my initial list of Texas movies to write about, the majority of it takes place in Texas and thus it seems to qualify.  When I first heard the title mentioned, I expected something along the lines of Thank You for Smoking, but rather than being somewhat clever, unique comedies, the two movies have little in common. I love you Phillip Morris is a thoroughly original love story, largely set inside a Texas prison, with a compulsively law (and honesty) averse protagonist at its center.

Romance in movies has a tendency to always feel familiar and hit the same beats, in a way that romance in real life really doesn’t. It’s refreshing to encounter a movie so quick to turn the traditional ideas and scenes that Hollywood uses to portray romance on its head.  Take, for example, the first big romantic gesture that Steven Russel (Jim Carrey) makes towards Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor): paying someone to beat up the man in the cell next to him that screams throughout the night.  Morris responds by gushing, “That’s the sweetest thing anyone’s ever done for me,” and the great romance of the film is born.

From there, we see scenes that mix sweetness, comedy and criminality as the tale plays out. Morris pays another of their cellmate neighbors to play some music for them, insisting that he play it through to the end, and the man is true to his word although it means getting a punishing beating from the guards while Morris and Russel share a sweet dance the next cell over.  Russel uses his impressive gift for deceit to help Morris get out of jail early so they can be together, and then proceeds to lie his way into a fancy and high paying job to support and thoroughly spoil his love (and then, of course, robs the company blind).

Later, he even goes through an elaborate act to fake having AIDS, down to starving himself to look the part, in order to gain Morris’ forgiveness for all his lies and see him again after a separation.  Whatever your response to the movie might be, no one could call it predictable.

Making this all quite a bit crazier, it’s mostly based on the story of actual Texas convict (currently serving a 144 year sentence), Steven Russel.  The comedy of the film is severely undercut vy the knowledge that the man Carrey portrays spends 23 hours a day in solitary confinement due to the correctional system’s embarrassment at how many times he’s duped them with the escapes to see his lover, and their insistence to keep it from occurring again. It’s the kind of story that, if encountered in any other context, would likely make you say, “They should really make a movie out of that.”

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