Sunday 11 April 2010

Boys behind bars (ST 21/03/10)

I Love You, Phillip Morris (15) 97 mins ***
My Last Five Girlfriends (12A) 87 mins **
The Bounty Hunter (12A) 110 mins *

Can a gay conman ever go straight? I Love You, Phillip Morris, an apparently true story from Bad Santa screenwriters-turned-directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, strives to make a folk hero out of one Steven Russell (Jim Carrey), an individual introduced playing the all-American roles of cop, husband and God-fearing churchgoer. Yet as a doozy of a reveal establishes, Russell’s was a double life, involving fake insurance claims and trysts with male lovers. It was while behind bars that Russell fell for the eponymous Morris (Ewan McGregor), although his enthusiastic hymning of inter-convict relations hinted he wasn’t ready to settle down just yet.

Phillip Morris played to awkward silences when I saw it; there are reasons why it arrives unadorned by studio logos, and with stars attached who, at this stage, have no particular reputation to ruin. Still, just as Bad Santa was sincere about nothing save its characters, Ficarra and Requa - coaxing unusually engaged work from their leads - invest this central relationship with heart and good cheer. Steven and Phillip’s first kiss forms the climax to a lyrical montage of stolen cellblock intimacies - and coincides with an especially vocal inmate being tasered offscreen.

The film’s best gag - made explicit after its hero escapes from jail and commences a new career in government healthcare - is that the time Russell has spent in the closet leaves him uniquely equipped to get ahead in business, to pass as one of the boys. “Golf?,” Phillip asks his lover as he prepares to tee off with the company bigwigs, “Why don’t you just eat pussy?” The tensions between the two are all there in this exchange: Russell forever putting himself at risk of exposure, leaving his steadfast partner to grow increasingly resentful in his wake.

Phillip Morris remains a (bi-)curious one: never quite the laugh riot the marketeers have been obliged to sell it as - the flexibility demanded from Carrey is here moral rather than physical - nor the assault on traditional values its scribes’ past work suggested. Rather, it’s a tender, quietly subversive character piece that, in its final round of you-couldn’t-or-wouldn’t-make-it-up revelations, approaches genuinely audacious territory. I’m not so sure the film’s sexual politics aren’t more confused than Ficarra and Requa let on, but it has some novelty as a true gay romance: the wistful offspring of Fargo and Philadelphia, perhaps.

Slim pickings elsewhere this week, although we might usefully take the opportunity to survey the sorry state of heterosexual movie love. Last year’s likable (500) Days of Summer crossed over into highbrow fantasy when its twentysomething hero bought his beloved an unspecified Alain de Botton book. Might it have been de Botton’s Essays in Love, the basis for new British feature My Last Five Girlfriends? The films share more than just their reading habits: like its predecessor, Julian Kemp’s film displays a weird tendency to conceal any true feelings behind a battery of defensive tics and gimmicks.

After an apparent suicide attempt, lovesick hero Duncan (Brendan Patricks) awakens in a limbo known as “Duncanworld” (“The world’s first theme park devoted to a complete nobody!”), where - between wearyingly inventive cutaways and a welcome Johnny Ball cameo - he’s left to ponder a quintet of former conquests, High Fidelity-style. As in (500) Days, the number in the title signals an attempt to impose order on chaotic heartbeats, yet Kemp proves so beholden to love’s torments that he omits any laughter or pleasure. It’s all very well trying to outsmart conventional boy-meets-girl business, but the New Romcom appears to value its brain over any other organs.

My Last Five Girlfriends has more specific flaws besides. Girlfriends two through four barely register as written, and Patricks’ charms stretch perilously thin. (Pick an unknown lead to play a complete nobody, and you run the risk of perfect casting.) Produced on a lowish budget, the film looks respectable - magicking up Paris and palm trees on what were presumably London locations - and never lacks for ideas. But it could badly do with taking lessons from the talking stuffed elephant who briefly interrupts Duncan’s stream of semi-consciousness: “Don’t think. Get on with it.”

Better that, however, than The Bounty Hunter, a dismayingly witless demonstration of Old Romance principles that finds Gerard Butler’s title character gleefully stuffing his ex Jennifer Aniston in his car boot after she fails to make a court appearance. Between bland montages and squandered supporting players, Butler gets to maintain the run of releases that have established him as something else entirely: Hollywood’s first romantic lead to have made aggressive-jerk chauvinism central to his screen persona. As I write, some Burbank exec is doubtless insisting Butler is “such a throwback to the leading men of old”. Yeah, if you mean Captain Caveman.

No comments:

Post a Comment