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With: Greg Kinnear, Emily Mortimer, Bradley Whitford, Jay Duplass, Megan Charpentier, Sarah Dugdale, April Cameron, Luke Wilson, Taylor Schilling, Robert Forster, Kurt Fuller, Nicole Oliver, Rukiya Bernard
Written by: Stephen Mazur
Directed by: Greg Kinnear
MPAA Rating: R for some language and a violent/disturbing image
Running Time: 106
Date: 07/12/2019
IMDB

Phil (2019)

2 Stars (out of 4)

'Phil' Is Nil

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This comedy-drama, Greg Kinnear's directing debut, has its touching, thoughtful moments, but mostly it relies on a creaky, insulting old sitcom-like "lie" plot that douses nearly every potential laugh.

In Phil, divorced dentist Phil McGuire (Greg Kinnear) drifts aimlessly through his days until he meets a new patient, Michael Fisk (Bradley Whitford). Michael seems to have the perfect life and an upbeat, can-do attitude. He reminds Phil of Socrates's dictum "the unexamined life is not worth living" and encourages him to get out there and follow his dreams.

Intrigued, Phil begins following Michael and his wife Alicia (Emily Mortimer), but is shocked when he discovers that Michael has committed suicide. Unable to figure out why such a happy man would end his life, Phil finds himself posing as "Spiros," an old Greek friend of Michael's, and volunteering to fix the family's bathroom so that he can search for clues. But can Phil keep up the ruse long enough to find the answer he seeks?

For Phil, screenwriter Stephen Mazur — whose credits include things like Benchwarmers 2: Breaking Balls — cooks up one routine after another in which "Spiros" lies about something and then must later talk or dance his way out of it. Some of these moments, such as Alicia presenting "Spiros" with packages of Greek cigarettes, could have been avoided with a simple "I don't smoke anymore," but the instead character gulps, lamely smokes, and coughs his head off. And it's supposed to be funny.

As director, Kinnear is better at serious moments, such Phil trying to connect with his increasingly-distant teen daughter. But unfortunately, the quieter moments between his character and Mortimer's are tainted by the lies; the moments are all fake. All in all, even though Kinnear's direction is geared more toward actors than visuals, the rest of the cast never gets much of a chance to come alive.

Jay Duplass has perhaps the best opportunity to shine, but he's still stuck as the typical "best friend/brother" character, who does nothing but worry about the main character. Phil gets bonus points for avoiding a neatly-packaged ending, and allowing for a little life mystery, but on the whole it doesn't quite work.

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