Saturday, June 24, 2017

I Love You Phillip Morris

Year 9, Day 175 - 6/24/17 - Movie #2,670

BEFORE: This year I found movies to help celebrate Valentine's Day, as usual, but also St. Patrick's Day ("Finian's Rainbow"), Easter ("The Passion of the Christ", "Risen") and Mother's Day (umm, "Mother's Day").  I missed a few small holidays like Flag Day and things are not looking great for July 4, sad to say.  I mean, they're running "The Birth of a Nation" (the new one, not the old one) and that would be perfect, except I don't think I can link to it without disrupting the chain that gets me to "Spider-Man: Homecoming" - perhaps a little research is required on this.  Alternatively I could watch "Independence Day: Resurgence", only I'm saving that for a Liam Hemsworth/Jeff Goldblum connection I think I'll need later this year - and it's off topic, having little to do with the American holiday.

But for once, it seems like I'm up for celebrating June's Pride Month, with "The Crying Game" and tonight's film.  If you also allow me "Carol", which I screened in April, this trilogy covers 3/4 of the LGBT acronym.  (I know, they've recently added more letters, but work with me here...).

Two actors carry over from "Self/Less", Douglas M. Griffin and Marcus Lyle Brown.  Maybe they didn't headline either film, but minor roles are also important to telling stories.  And one of those actors will be in tomorrow's film also.  Yeah, OK, so I needed to pad out the chain a little.  The truth is that none of the above-the-title actors in tonight's film are in anything else on my list, and I didn't want this film to languish down at the bottom of the list in the Unlinkables section.

THE PLOT: A cop turns con man after he comes out of the closet.  Once imprisoned, he meets the second love of his life, whom he'll stop at nothing to be with.

AFTER: The two stars here are involved with current TV projects, of course.  Ewan McGregor just finished a run on the third season of "Fargo", and Jim Carrey is exec-producing the cable drama "I'm Dying Up Here", about L.A. stand-up comics in the 1970's.  I finished "Fargo" and I've got all the episodes for the other show on my DVR, now I just need to find the time to watch them.

I heard about this film a few years back when it was released, and then it didn't show up on premium cable until a few months ago.  I'm not sure if there was a distribution problem, or someone found the gay prison sex too controversial, or what.  Maybe there's something here to offend everyone, conservatives will hate it because it glorifies the gay lifestyle, and liberals will hate it because the lead character is a gay man who is also a con man and a compulsive liar, so therefore not the best possible moral person, by anyone's standards.

When we first see Steven Russell, he's married with a wife and daughter (it's been a big week for daughters, but this is the third film in a row with absent fathers and young daughters...) and as he lies in a hospital bed and narrates his story in flashback (Arrgh, more flashbacks, but at least they're in linear order and we don't jump around too much), it's a good five minutes before he mentions that he's gay.  Or as he puts it, "gay gay gay gay gay."  So why is married then?  How does he have a daughter?  Isn't he technically bi-sexual and not gay?  Nope, let's say it again for emphasis, he's "gay gay gay gay gay".  I'm just saying that a little explanation of how this marriage came to be, then, would really help us straights in the audience understand.

For some reason, bisexuals seem to be looked down on, from people on both ends of the sexuality spectrum, as if they're people who just can't make up their minds.  Why can't they be celebrated, as people who want to experience everything, or get the most out of life?  Why must they be pulled in one direction or the other, by either the straight or gay communities?  And if we're supposed to let everyone love who they want, why doesn't that seem to hold true for bisexuals, who are made to feel that they've got to commit to one orientation or the other?

I'm getting away from the plot of the film here, but I think the LGBT community has a perception problem, especially if they want people to get on board with the whole "born this way" concept.  First off, they used to call it "sexual preference", and right there is a language problem.  "Preference" makes it sound like they just prefer one thing over the other, like they're both good, like with flavors of ice cream, but you prefer one over the other.  These days it's called "sexual orientation", which is better, because it sounds like it's a guiding principle that guides people through their life, they orient their life around it, like using a compass to find your direction on a map.  But that still doesn't imply that being gay is a birthright, it still sounds like a series of decisions to be that way.  So I think a stronger term is definitely needed, if the straight community is really going to believe that being gay is not a choice.

I bring all this up because this film is about choices, bad ones made by the main character to lie, steal and defraud.  And he happens to be gay.  So we're supposed to separate all the terrible choices he makes in his life, ones that land him in jail and cause him various bodily injuries and say, "OK, those were the bad choices" but being gay and falling in love with Phillip Morris, those were the good choices.  How the heck are we supposed to parse out someone's life like that?  The danger here is to allow someone to take the main character at face value and say that all of his choices and actions were terrible, including the gay stuff.  And that's a dangerous road, right?

Like with "Mr. Brooks", are we supposed to believe that he's a serial killer, a sexual deviant, but also a good father?  How do the first two things not reflect on the others?  So he kills again to save his daughter from being a suspect, am I supposed to give him a trophy that reads "Best Dad" or something?  And here with Steven Russell, he becomes a con man in order to live the extravagant gay lifestyle (you know, because being gay means being fashionable and over-accessorizing...) so doesn't all the crime taint the lifestyle that it supports?  Also, after getting out of jail he continues to make terrible choices, like embezzlement and fraud, but since it was all for love of Phillip, somehow that's OK?  I'm sorry, I can't do that.

I'm probably making this more complicated than it is - it's supposed to be a black comedy, but the comedy is covered up by and tied to all these other issues, so it's sort of tough to see it.  Dying of AIDS, for example, is not funny - it should be impossible to find any humor there, but the film still tries.  Was Jim Carrey bucking for an Oscar, seeing as how Tom Hanks got one for "Philadelphia"? Or was he trying to build on the success of "Fun With Dick and Jane", which also found humor in financial fraud and bankruptcy?  It's just a little unclear what the intent was here.

I guess that if this was based on a book that was based on a true story, I can't really fault the details and ask questions about why things all went down this way, assuming that they did.  But the film has also sparked a lot of questions for me about the WHY of things in general, but I'm going to refrain from asking them here, because I have a feeling that the PC police will say that I'm not supposed to ask such questions in the first place.

Also starring Jim Carrey (last seen in "Once Bitten"), Ewan McGregor (last seen in "Emma"), Leslie Mann (last seen in "The Other Woman"), Rodrigo Santoro (last seen in "Focus"), Brennan Brown (ditto), Antoni Corone (last seen in "The Specialist"), Marc Macaulay (ditto), Michael Showers, Annie Golden (last heard in "The Pebble and the Penguin"), Michael Mandel, with cameos from David Jensen (last seen in "Midnight Special"), J.D. Evermore (last seen in "Stolen"), and the real Phillip Morris.

RATING: 4 out of 10 slip-and-fall accidents

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