Monday, July 04, 2011

I Love You Phillip Morris (Glenn Ficara and John Requa, 2009)

In I Love You Phillip Morris, Jim Carey does what Jim Carey does. He plays real-life conman Steven Russell as a grotesque. I don't mean anything negative by this. Like I said, it's what Jim Carey does. It's not how Phillip Seymour Hoffman would play the role, just as Marcel Marceau wouldn't go about portraying a man in a box the same way Harry Houdini would. There's a perverse joy in watching Carey apply his physical comedy skills to this tragic human being. His face is still as expressive as it was when he appeared on an early 80's HBO Young Comics special and conjured Clint Eastwood, Jimmy Stewart and Chairman Mao using nothing but his facial muscles.

Americans traditionally have a fascination with fictional con men. We generally hate the real life version, especially when we are their target, but when we see them on screen we somehow identify with the con, not the mark. A big screen con man usually has about as much in common with Bernie Madoff as Batman has with Bernie Goetz. They're clever people who take pleasure in separating arrogant millionaires from their money, and for whom the con is a fun little puzzle to work out, a childish game. This portrayal of Russell undermines that idea. Russell is a sociopath, but he's also a desperately hurting man. In fact, the latter is a much more central point to his life than the former. He doesn't see himself as a con man. In fact, most of the cons I've known in my life don't. They always think they've just got this one white lie to get through to achieve happiness. They've conned the hell out of themselves. And Russell is just trying to win over the man he loves, or live the life he feels he's entitled to, to fill that craving in his heart. God, he can see it right there, and he's absolutely convinced himself that he can get it if he just goes through with whatever con he's running at the moment. And Carey, in his grotesque facial sculpture, brings all of these emotions to brilliant life.


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