There comes a time in many movie stars’ careers when they decide they want to take chances, and break the mold in which their image has been cast. Think of happy-go-lucky Tom Hanks playing a gay lawyer dying of AIDS in “Philadelphia,” or Oscar queen Meryl Streep bursting into song and dance in “Mamma Mia.”
On December 3rd, it’s Jim Carrey’s and Natalie Portman’s turn to flip the script on their personas. As a gay con artist named Steven Russell who will do anything to be near his cellmate and true love (played by Ewan McGregor) – even repeatedly breaking in and out of prison – in “I Love You Phillip Morris,” Carrey regains the wild, anything-goes zeal of his early movies while taking chances that more serious-minded actors wouldn’t even attempt. Case in point: the graphic sex scene in which Carrey announces to the viewer in jubilant voice-over narration, “I am gay, gay, gay, gay, gay!” (The only graphic scene in the movie, by the way).
On the other hand, Portman makes her bid to break out of the young-actress pack and reinvent herself as an acting powerhouse with her turn as an emotionally unbalanced ballerina who goes batshit-crazy under the pressure of a high-profile lead role in “Black Swan.” Whether cutting herself, trying to purge herself with bulimia, getting high as a kite on a laced drink or engaging in a tawdry girl-girl sex scene with costar Mila Kunis, Portman’s performance almost literally shrieks “Look at me, Oscar!” when she isn’t shrieking at her overbearing mother (Barbara Hershey) in the film’s many argument scenes.
To be sure, these are wildly ambitious films for their genres – and, in the case of “Black Swan,” it’s a genre-defying attempt at art altogether. With the almost-impossible true-life tale “Morris,” Carrey is able to show off his anarchic comic mastery in a series of hilarious con and fraud scenes as he shows how Russell got in over his head while trying to live a life of glamorous excess on a sheriff’s salary. He then goes even funnier in depicting the countless ways that Russell tried to trick his way into or out of the prison walls where his true love Morris (McGregor) was either being held or freshly released.
But it is in the film’s quieter moments, where he shows the pain of a man who only found true love after breaking out of a lifetime in the closet and a long-term attempt at hetero marriage or lays bare the longing he has for Morris, that Carrey integrates deeper emotions better than any of his prior attempts at dramas in films like “The Majestic” or even his acclaimed “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”
It’s a shame that the masses won’t have much of a chance to see his terrific performance, however, as the major studios all ran in fear from releasing “Morris” despite rave reviews at Sundance, a fairly successful overseas box office run and the fact it was written and directed by the hot team of John Requa and Glenn Ficarra (“Bad Santa”). Instead, indie distributor Roadside Attractions has stepped in to give it a shot, and if you can handle the subject matter, “Morris” is well worth seeing. As Russell spirals into obsession with Morris, the film does show that a relationship rooted in the wrong things (Russell is always working a con) can never truly blossom in a healthy way. On the other hand, Russell’s initial deep feelings for Morris, and the sweet and simple love Morris shows for him in return gives a real humanity to both the men and their relationship. http://nataliaportman.blogspot.com/