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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: I Love You, Philip Morris

April 3rd, 2011

I Love You, Philip Morris - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

A story about two men who fall in love while in prison. This was a movie that was always going to struggle to find an audience. There was some pre-release Awards Season Buzz for I Love You, Philip Morris, but then its release date was pushed back, more than once. By the time it eventually hit theaters, the buzz had died down. And while it was able to do well at the box office for a limited release, it was never able to expand truly wide. Was the early buzz exaggerated? Or was this a movie that was simply too far outside the mainstream to expand into multiplexes?

The Movie

The film begins with a prologue of sorts and we first meet Steven Russell as he lays dying in a hospital bed. We then hear him tell his story how he got to this point. It all started back on the day in his childhood when he learned he was adopted. It was quite a traumatic event (made more so by his brother's tactless way of breaking the news). It did install within him a desire to find out who is real mother was. In order to do so, he became a cop, which would give him access to records to help him in that goal. However, while he is successful in learning the truth, his meeting with his birth mother is much less successful. Unable to deal with this, he quits the force and moves his family away.

Even so, he still has a great life, including a wife who loves him, a daughter whom he adores, and great job. ... And a boyfriend on the side. Yep, he's a closeted gay man. But after a car crash nearly costs him his life, he has an epiphany and decides to stop lying, leaves his family, moves to Florida and lives his life as an openly gay man. Of course in his opinion, the gay lifestyle mostly involves spending huge amounts of money and in order to do so, he turns to crime. Specifically, he turns to insurance fraud and other cons. He doesn't manage to stay ahead of the law forever, and he's eventually caught, convicted and sent to prison. Life there isn't too bad for him, especially after he meets Phillip Morris. There's an instant connection and the two fall madly in love. Steven will do anything to be with Phillip, including using his knowledge of the law he gathered in prison to help Phillip get an early release when Steven's prison term ends first.

Life on the outside is great, for a while. However, Steven still hasn't quite learned the importance of living within your means and soon he's up to his old cons. Not long after that, he's back in prison. And then he's out again. And back in. And then out. But his last escape attempt ends with him, and Phillip thrown into prison. Can love survive that?

At its peak, I Love You, Philip Morris was only playing in 100 theaters. I'm amazed it got that far. There are certain subjects in the film that would make most distributors think twice about picking up the film. There's a plot thread in this movie that might even make Matt Stone and Trey Parker think twice. The tonal switch from lighthearted romantic comedy / conman movie to the dark place it goes could have killed the film, but it is expertly made in all aspects (writing, directing, acting). The fact that is was based on real life events does help insulate it from accusations of going too far. It does go very far, and the comedy is pitch black at times and the film is not for everyone. The writer / director team of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa previously wrote Bad Santa, which is a good gauge to use.

The film features amazing performances, most notably from Jim Carrey, who gave arguably his best performance since Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, maybe even since The Truman Show. Ewan McGregor is equally impressive as the titular Philip Morris. Meanwhile, the supporting cast compliments these two nicely.

Without the combination of writer and acting, this could have been a train wreck. Fortunately it is a very compelling movie and it's a shame it didn't find a wider audience. Not a shock, mind you, but a shame.

The Extras

The extras on the DVD start with an audio commentary track with a large number of participants, starting with the co-writers / co-directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa. There's also two of the producers (Andrew Lazar and Far Shariat); the chief lighting technician (Max Pomerleau); and the D.P. (Xavier PĂ©rez Grobet). It is a very entertaining track with plenty of information passed along. Next up is a 12-minute making of featurette which is the usual mix of talking heads, behind-the-scenes footage, and clips from the movie. There are seven deleted / extended / alternative scenes, some of which are mere seconds, but most are rather substantial.

I don't have the Blu-ray, but it doesn't have any additional extras, while over on it costs nearly 50% more to buy. That's too much for a film like this.

The Verdict

I Love You, Philip Morris is not for the easily offended and this black comedy is not for mainstream audiences. However, those with a high tolerance for potentially offensive material should not shy away. The replay value of the movie, plus the extras, make it worth picking up, but the DVD is a better deal over the Blu-ray.

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