I now pronounce sentence on you, Steven and Phillip

Most of the characters Jim Carrey has played have been queer in one sense or another, so it’s not a great stretch for him to play gay in I Love You Phillip Morris.

The actor who does the stretching is Ewan McGregor as the more effeminate love of Carrey’s life. Carrey does little he hasn’t done before, except for doing it with men—and doesn’t look as good doing it as he once did.

Writer-directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa shocked many with the dark comedy in their best previous screenplay by far, Bad Santa, and here they do it again. The odd thing is that most of the film could play on network television today without seeming out of place, while the language and sex scenes would get it relegated to cable, but American multiplexes have yet to catch up, except for the occasional Brokeback Mountain or Milk, so Phillip Morris will not be universally loved.

Based on real events, as chronicled by Steve McVicker, this is the story of a con man who falls in love. Lying being part of his nature, he can’t be honest with anyone, including his love or, it turns out, the audience.

“Love’s the reason I’m layin’ here dyin’,” Steven Russell (Carrey) tells us at the outset, narrating from a hospital bed.

His flashbacks jump around a bit—perhaps his life is flashing before him at the end—but we see him as a child learning he was adopted and later as a policeman using the perks of his job to discover the identity of his birth mother.

Steven is not always (ever?) honest—“Sometimes you have to shave a little off the puzzle piece to make it fit,” he says, explaining the “little lies” he tells. But he’s outwardly respectable, a churchgoer with a wife (Leslie Mann) and daughter.

His gay side is shockingly revealed only 10 minutes into the movie (the moment when some people will decide they’re in the wrong theater), and Steven tells us he’s always been gay.

A car wreck makes him decide it’s time to tell everyone else as well: “I’m gonna be a fag. A big fag.”

He moves to Miami where he soon has “two adorable pups and a boyfriend named Jimmy (Rodrigo Santoro).” It’s there he discovers the sad truth, “Being gay is really expensive,” and he becomes a con man to supplement his income.

This eventually leads to a Texas prison, where Steven meets Phillip Morris (McGregor), a self-described “blond-haired, blue-eyed queer.” It’s love at first sight and Steven arranges to get himself transferred to Phillip’s cell.

Their life together is as romantic as can be, given the surroundings. Offscreen drama serves as a hilarious counterpoint as they dance to an old Johnny Mathis song.

Steven impersonates a lawyer to get Philip released and lies his way into a job as chief financial officer of a medical management company, from whom he embezzles enough to let them live in grand style—until he gets caught.

At times the movie seems like an endless parade of con jobs, suicide attempts, arrests, escapes, romantic interludes, wacky comedy and sobering drama. The flow could be a little smoother, but then you wouldn’t be caught off guard as often, and that’s part of the fun.

In a few years the lovers’ orientation will be no big whoop, and I Love You Phillip Morris can be judged on its considerable merits as a dramedy about a con man.

There are certainly enough remarkable aspects to Russell’s story to make it worth translating to the screen, and Ficarra and Requa, directing one of their scripts for the first time, have done a good if not great job of telling it.

If nothing else this is a great gay date movie, filled with laughs, tears and lots of sweet hand-holding moments.

The Q Archives and articles like this are republished here by the kind contribution of Tony Molnar-Strejcek, the publisher of Pittsburgh’s Out. Maintaining the cultural history of Pittsburgh's LGBTQ Community is made possible by contributions by readers like you.