A car accident, a coming-out, and a lifetime of cons, jail-breaking, and death-faking. By the end of I Love You Phillip Morris, you totally forget about its opening claim: “This really happened,” the text reads. And soon after: “It really did.” But unless you’re someone who bitches that certain things could happen only in a movie, the story’s verity hardly impacts what turns out to be possibly the most joyful film about a convict yet.
Steven Russell (Jim Carrey) was a church-going family man in Texas, a cop who was married to a lovely, devout woman (Leslie Mann) and whose biggest issue seemed to be not only that he was adopted, but that his biological mother had sons older and younger than he—so, you know, it was just him she had a problem with. He uses police records to find her, and she wants nothing to do with him, which makes him sad. But not as sad as the fact that he was, as his voiceover tells us, “gay gay gay gay gay.” A serious car accident serves as his “epiphany,” and Steven quickly leaves his wife and moves to Florida with a lover.
Under hypersaturated Sunshine State skies, though, Steven finds that “being gay is really expensive.” So he begins another life of fraud, this time staging accidents and bilking insurance companies out of wads of cash so he can “live high on the gay hog.” He’s eventually caught and sent to prison, where he meets Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor), a soft-spoken, honey-haired wisp of a man whose charge stems from an overdue rental car. The attraction is immediate, and soon Steven conspires to make them cellmates—and, eventually, wins them both parole, posing as a lawyer. Once free, they live life on the right side of the law for a while. But then there’s that gay hog again.
Though I Love You Phillip Morris is at its heart a love story, it’s difficult to keep the whys of Steven’s shenanigans in mind when the hows are so jaw-dropping. Carrey is exuberant and, of course, funny in his most layered role to date, half slick con artist and half hopeless romantic, his rubber-faced goofiness winnowed to always-smiling eagerness. Steven’s schemes seem simultaneously easy and impossible, and Carrey’s charisma ensures that you’re always pulling for the character to pull one over on others, again and again and again. Meanwhile, McGregor’s Phillip mostly sits back and marvels with twinkling eyes. A breezy, tropical soundtrack further lubricates it all.
Ficarra and Requa, who previously teamed up on Bad Santa, not only use words like “fag” with abandon, they also don’t censor Steven and Phillip’s love. Carrey and McGregor kiss, pet, and carry on like any leading couple in a romantic comedy would, their fame never taking you out of the moment or making the characters’ affection seem unnatural. The real Steven Russell, if he weren’t presently serving a 144-year sentence, would be proud.
All Good Things Directed by Andrew Jarecki
Also “inspired by” true events, All Good Things is a missing-person mystery that alternately turns your stomach and holds you at a distance. Director Andrew Jarecki’s (Capturing the Friedmans) misshapen thriller is loosely framed by a trial that’s most often only disembodied voices, that of a prosecutor and an elderly David Marks, the son of a New York City property tycoon who made his money owning most of seedy Times Square in the 1970s.
David (Ryan Gosling, nerded up ’70s-style) never wanted any part of the business, but his father (Frank Langella) kept pushing, the hot button inevitably being David’s ability to provide for his wife, an aspiring med student named Katie (Kirsten Dunst).
But the more David works, the crazier he becomes. The problem is that, with Jarecki’s quotidian, emotionless storytelling, you may know that what unfolds is queasily wrong, but you probably won’t understand why it’s happening.
Unless, wait! “Why didn’t you pick me up?” David asks his father toward the end of the film. Could David’s descent into madness really just be about Daddy issues? More like Mommy issues. As in David’s mother killed herself and he saw the whole thing. When he meets Katie, David is weighed down by his father’s constant criticism and pressure to take up the family business but otherwise apparently normal. In fact, Katie makes him buoyant, and brave enough to follow his dream of opening a health-food store in Vermont. They get married and are happy, even after they move back to New York when David caves to Dad. Then Katie gets pregnant, and Dad’s properties gets raided, and, well, something trips in David’s mind. He and Katie become distant, and then Katie becomes really distant, as in nowhere to be found. So, naturally, David starts cross-dressing and killing people.
This leap into madness feels like a tenuous one, communicated mostly through David’s serial-killer looks (greasy bad haircut, huge glasses) and general reticence. With this script, there’s not much the usually excellent Gosling can do. Dunst fairs better as the perplexed spouse, one racked with grief when she discovers that David doesn’t want kids and who eventually wants to move on with her life, though Marks family lawyering makes that a nearly impossible option. Dunst has one particular stellar scene in a nightclub after a traumatic event, unable to be polite to some gabby friends who invite themselves to their table and later chair-dancing to disco, coked-up but still obviously devastated.
The film, thus far a decent story of love going bad, nose-dives when Katie disappears and Crazy David emerges —his unraveling happens too quickly, too cartoonishly to be satisfying. The most consistent aspect of All Good Things is the cinematography, mostly shots of inky night and a Times Square so scuzzy you’ll feel dirty watching it. But by the end of the story, dirtiness is just about all you’ll feel.