Com­ing out party

Jim Car­rey is at his best in this zany – but true – he­do­nis­tic com­edy, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion -

THE WORLD is di­vided into those who find Jim Car­rey the life and soul of the party and those who sus­pect that his hys­ter­i­cal mug­ging is ev­i­dence of some hid­den (though not that hid­den) seam of poi­sonous in­se­cu­rity. Very oc­ca­sion­ally, some bright di­rec­tor finds a way of chan­nelling that des­per­a­tion into an un­set­tling per­for­mance. One thinks of Man in the Moon and the less cel­e­brated but equally in­ter­est­ing The Ca­ble Guy. In short, Car­rey is at his best when, rather than play­ing a crazy, crazy guy, he plays a guy who is ac­tu­ally crazy.

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Which brings us to this di­vert­ing, if some­what dis­or­gan­ised, com­edy from mem­bers of the Bad Santa team. Jim plays a Texan po­lice of­fi­cer named Steven Rus­sell – a fam­ily man with a shiny wife and gleam­ing chil­dren – who plays the or­gan in church and washes the car on Sun­day.

We have seen enough con­tem­po­rary movies to know that any such idyl­lic façade is sure to con­ceal a whole spec­trum of se­crets and lies. Sure enough, it tran­spires that Steven is gay and, though deeply fond of his wife and chil­dren, spends the odd af­ter­noon astride a male neigh­bour.

He is also adopted. Fol­low­ing a dis­ap­point­ing en­counter with his birth mother, Steven de­cides to stop – fine words, rarely hon­oured – liv­ing a lie and moves to one of the gayest cor­ners of Mi­ami’s South Beach. He falls into an empty world of pri­mary coloured sports cars, thump­ing disco mu­sic and be­jew­elled Rolex time­pieces. “Be­ing gay is re­ally ex­pen­sive,” he re­marks as an­other YSL sweater finds its way into his wardrobe.

Con­sid­er­ing that the lead ac­tors and direc­tors are straight, I Love You Phillip Mor­ris could (if there were a self-righ­teous bore to hand) be ac­cused of ped­dling neg­a­tive gay stereotypes. Yet the film-mak­ers’ af­fec­tion for the char­ac­ters and guilty com­plic­ity in their he­do­nis­tic ma­te­ri­al­ism is never in ques­tion.

Any­way, it all ends in dis­as­ter when Steven, work­ing a sus­pi­ciously hum­ble job, is ar­rested for fraud and sent to an aus­tere prison where, as he even­tu­ally ex­plains to var­i­ous new­com­ers, the only cur­ren­cies are to­bacco and oral sex. There he en­coun­ters a del­i­cate, ap­par­ently saintly gay pris­oner named, yes, Phillip Mor­ris (an ad­e­quate Ewan McGre­gor) and the film re­ally gets into its stride.

Based on a gen­uinely as­ton­ish­ing true story, I Love You Phillip Mor­ris charts its hero’s end­less ef­forts to prove his af­fec­tion for his lover by re­peat­edly es­cap­ing from prison and, de­spite no for­mal train­ing, forg­ing hugely suc­cess­ful, dizzy­ingly fraud­u­lent ca­reers in a num­ber of well-paid pro­fes­sions.

His fi­nal suc­cess­ful es­cape (the de­tails of which we won’t spoil) is so im­plau­si­bly au­da­cious that it can only have its ba­sis in the facts. Sure enough, a glance at Rus­sell’s bi­og­ra­phy con­firms that the trick­ster did, in­deed, achieve the ap­par­ently im­pos­si­ble.

The film is des­per­ately in need of some struc­ture. Once the gov­ern­ing rhythms have struck up, the story re­solves it­self into a loosely or­dered se­ries of ever more pre­pos­ter­ous japes. We have the real Mr Rus­sell to thank for the fact that ev­ery one of th­ese ad­ven­tures is loaded with laughs, but it be­comes hard to es­cape the sus­pi­cion that one is watch­ing a so­phis­ti­cated sketch show.

None­the­less, thanks to a well-sus­tained screw­ball tone and an im­pres­sively lay­ered per­for­mance by Car­rey, the film does man­age to re­tain at­ten­tion through­out. Should we even men­tion how cheer­ing it is to see a com­edy fea­tur­ing gay char­ac­ters ap­pear­ing in mul­ti­plexes and on the side of buses?

Too late. We’ll make sure to take it as read next time.

Gay love in the big house: Ewan McGre­gor and Jim Car­rey in I Love You Phillip Mor­ris

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