CELLULOIDLAND, The Universe - I Love You Philip Morris is not, alas, a film about a shrinking sect of smokers with a passionate fealty to a large tobacco conglomerate who rebelliously use machetes to hack off the hands of the antismoking fanatics who fan those hands in front of their own scrunched-up noses to signal their disdain for cigarettes, cigarette smoke, free will, responsible choice, and anything else that gets in the way of their desire to dictate to others how they should live.
Instead, it is a romantic comedy-drama (a "comma"?) about a pair of gay guys. Steven Russell, played by Jim Carrey, is an incorrigible con man. Phillip Morris, played by Ewan MacGregor, is a trusting Southern soul. The two meet and fall in love in prison, where each is serving time for something or other. (Who, in the end, cares why they're behind bars? Life is short; we're all going to die someday. Tracking details of this or that movie's plot is, you might agree, simply too exhausting.)
The film is sweet and mildly enjoyable, excepting a scene which for First of All sabotaged the whole thing.
In it, Mr. Russell appears to be dying of AIDS. In a wrenching phone call, Mr. Morris, though angry with Mr. Russell for other reasons, sobs wildly when he learns of his lover's illness. For those of us who lost friends to AIDS in the eighties and nineties, the scene is a knife to the heart.
Later, it is revealed that Mr. Russell's "illness" was faked. It is another con, one that allows Mr. Russell, posing as a lawyer, to try to spring Mr. Morris from prison.
(Oops. Did we spoil the film for you? So sorry.)
For the AIDS scene to work, the audience must feel Mr. Morris' agony. So the film tricks us in the same way that Mr. Russell tricks Mr. Morris. When the con is exposed we feel Mr. Morris' rage--he slaps Mr. Russell's face--and his exasperation with Mr. Russell's iniquitous duplicity.
First of All understands this filmic conceit. You know what? First of All does not care. It is a terrible manipulation of the audience. We found ourselves weeping at Mr. Morris' pain; we recalled our own in the same kinds of situations. So for the illness to be exposed as fake--well, for hours after leaving the theater we boiled at the film's aggressive guile.
In fairness, we note that the film is based on true events. Perhaps Mr. Russell's AIDS con did, in fact, happen.
A side note: Mr. Morris and Mr. Russell's relationship does not last. In this sense theirs is no different from many nongay couplings. Love, sad to say, does not conquer all. Gays and lesbians eager to marry, in prison our out, need take note.