Jim Carrey is gay. Well, at least in his latest outing, I Love You Phillip Morris in which he portrays the real life story of Steven Jay Russell, a cop, a conman, an inmate and a big fan of musicals. If you desperately want one of those golden statuettes, play someone famous, someone that's mentally-challenged or just "play it gay". It worked for Tom Hanks in Philadelphia, Hillary Swank in Boys Don't Cry, Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote, Charlize Theron in Monster and Sean Penn in Milk.
Let's not forget about those phenomenal turns from Colin Firth in A Single Man, Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain, Greg Kinnear in As Good As It Gets and Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon. It seems that if can't "play it gay" as a straight actor in Hollywood, you're too commercial or you just can't act - just ask Will Smith. The only gay actor in living history to win an Oscar for playing a gay character is none other than Sir Ian McKellen - as if Lord of the Rings wasn't camp enough already!
Jack Nicholson has dubbed Jim Carrey as the "Jack Nicholson of the next generation", despite having had a career spanning 20 years without any Academy Award nominations. So you've got to wonder - is Carrey "playing it gay" to show he's more serious about acting, to get his definitive gay role under the belt or to exorcise some Nicholson demons - the jury is still out. Carrey is supported by Ewan McGregor as the title character of Phillip, who also hasn't really got a gay role to complete his acting career besides those appearances in Velvet Goldmine, The Pillow Book and Star Wars.
I Love You Phillip Morris is the perfect gay role for Jim to showcase some real acting with a twist of Carrey. The comedy takes the edge off any gays-in-prison anxiety audiences may experience without creating an offensive gay caricature like Tracy Morgan's take in The Longest Yard. This is part of the charm of I Love You Phillip Morris, it's a real love story and the characters are gay and then funny, instead of using stereotypes and cliches to generate comedy. This makes the film inoffensive and almost palatable to the homophobic, apart from some longing gazes, light kissing and moderate sex scenes... it's modestly progressive!
Carrey tries to do a roundhouse Oscar kick as Steven Jay Russell... playing a real person, a compulsive liar and a gay conman. Russell is happily married, a dedicated policeman and a sterling example of what it means to be an American man. After a near-death experience and a re-assessment of his life, he realises he's been living a big fat lie. No longer a cop or straight, Russell makes a full 180 degree turn, eventually meeting his soul mate Phillip Morris... in jail.
To say the role is multi-faceted would be an understatement and Carrey pulls it off with just the right amount of torque. However, it's still predominantly a comedy - a genre that has to be twice as good for any awards committee to give the nod. This could also explain the lack of nominations and why Will Ferrell did Stranger Than Fiction. Other than that, it's a detour for both Carrey and MacGregor, who take their A-list status into I Love Phillip Morris, which is bravely supported by Europa - a Luc Besson film company. Both actors deserve full credit for their commitment to their characters, but probably won't get more than a pat on the back.
I Love You Phillip Morris is not for everyone. In fact, the story wouldn't be the same if Steven and Phillip were straight. It's a bit of a gimmick, holding some fascination and making it character-driven rather than dependent on it's true story. The film also washes its hands of discrimination, making it seem more surreal. The men are openly gay, yet are never really confronted by homophobia. Jim Carrey fans will be slightly disappointed it wasn't funnier and some will be surprised at just how serious he can be when he wants. The performances are the main reason to see I Love You Phillip Morris: refreshing territory for both A-listers and backed by an unusual prison love story.
The bottom line: Different.