19 April 2011

Love is Many Splendored Thing and a Con Artist in Love Makes for a Many Splendored Movie

H.L. Mencken said that "love is the triumph of imagination over intelligence." Evidently Steven Jay Russell, presently serving out a life sentence in a Texas slammer, possessed, in his prime, simply oodles of love, imagination and intelligence.

His adventures are detailed in the film I Love You, Phillip Morris (2009). Jim Carrey stars as Russell and Ewan McGregor plays Morris. It's a gay love story. Sort of.

ILYPM is a slightly fictionalized account of Russell's escapades. Only slightly, because these kind of escapades need no frills to make for an entertaining story. In fact, the filmmakers must have been tempted to tone it down so audiences wouldn't spend the film making a lot of "yeah right!" remarks.

You couldn't make this stuff up. Well, you could but people would say you were daffy.

Lesse...he cons his way into a job as the CFO of a large company (then bilks them out of $100,000s), he convinces the courts he's a lawyer, he...Hey, wait a second, I don't wanna ruin the movie for you. Suffice to say I've only scratched the surface of Russell's chicanery. (Just wait'll you see how he escapes from prison. Classic.)

But Russell, at least as depicted in the film, lacks enough self awareness to avoid his most egregious con -- himself. It doesn't help that as a child he discovers he was adopted, then spends enough years deep enough in the closet to marry (a woman) and father two children. Russell is a doer not a thinker. He immerses himself so much into being someone or something else that he neglects examining who the deuce he is. This is a theme that I touched upon last week in a post about Color Me Kubrick (2005), another film about someone who isn't what or who he appears to be.

Con artists are a film staple, from Trouble in Paradise (1932) through The Sting (1973) through Catch Me If You Can (2002) they make for delightful film characters, especially as their victims are usually stuffy upper crust types or crooks themselves. Sometimes the flim flammer falls for a dame or a dude. But rarely is the love as passionate as in ILYPM. And I defy you to find a con artist film in which the lovers are Gay.

You can argue that the sexual preferences of the screen lovers is irrelevant and I'd agree with you. But as a society we're still new enough to accepting homosexuality (hey! it's only 2011!) so it still can titillate, or more importantly add a dramatic edge to stories. That the film is set in the South which, aside from perhaps Miami Beach, is not known for being at the forefront of the Gay rights movement, adds another dimension.

In ILYPM the lovers meet in prison. So yes this is also in some respects a prison love story. (What, another?!) Carrey and McGregor are wonderful in this film. I always have mixed feelings about Carrey. He's just so much of whatever the hell it is he is, but that's exactly what's called for in playing Russell. I've never known McGregor to do anything but enhance the films he's in. This is a case in point.

ILYPM was a hit in Europe where it was released a full year before hitting these parts. In the U.S., not so much. I don't know the whys and wherefores, but do find it interesting that the Old World took to it and the States didn't. I'm sure part of it has to do with it being released among all those blockbuster/prestige films in December, then slipping out of theaters before you could say I Love You Phillip Morris. Hell, I didn't even catch it. Thanks Netflix for sending it today.

So I had to write something about it. And, in fact, I'll write some more: sweet, engaging, audacious, entertaining, funny as hell and even thought provoking. I like having my thoughts provoked. Gay love stories about con artists, especially true ones, those I'm a sucker for.


Anonymous said...

Just a reccomendation of a interesting and entertaining look at the world of conmen- BBC TV series Hustle. The first two seasons are particularly good.

Richard Hourula said...

Thanks for the tip. I'll check it out.

music quotes said...

Gotta check the films you mentioned here! Films about con artists are often clever and witty. I admire those minds behind those movie pieces.