Typically, an item on the shortlist for things that aren’t supposed to be funny, suicide is one of the frontrunners. Phil, Greg Kinnear’s directorial debut, visits this taboo and doesn’t mess with it too much, so don’t think this is some kind of shocking, offensive film because it isn’t.
Greg Kinnear plays the titular Phil, a divorced Toronto dentist who leads a pretty ordinary, if not a bit ho-hum life. He seems to be pretty damn depressed, standing on the ledge of a bridge at the beginning of the film, but not going through with it, despite the disappointment of a group of teen onlookers attempting to record his jump for YouTube. Shortly after this desperate event, a new patient named Michael Fisk (Bradley Whitford) comes in. He seems to have it all together thanks to a wonderful life as a philosophy professor, a beautiful wife, and a lovely daughter recently off to college. Fisk leaves such an impression on Phil that he decides to follow him around for a few days. He sees how great he and his family get along and you can tell he’s jealous and also now borderline obsessed.
“He seems to be pretty damn depressed, standing on the ledge of a bridge…”
At the end of another bout of following Fisk, he sees Fisk get out of the car and go into the woods. What’s waiting for Phil when he finds him is what he least expected., Fisk’s body hanging from a tree, his shoes on the ground, that for some reason Phil takes. At this point, Phil must know what was going on to make Michael kill himself. So he assumes the very ridiculous role of Spiros, a friend that Michael briefly mentioned to Phil during his dental visit. Michael met Spiros in Greece ages ago, and his wife and family never met him, so it’s the perfect cover up to infiltrate Fisk’s family to uncover whatever mystery he believes to be waiting for him. While playing Columbo, Phil ends up befriending Michael’s wife, Alicia (Emily Mortimer) and completely abandons his dental practice and regular life, which causes his brother Malcolm (Jay Duplass) and his daughter to become concerned.
As unlikely as this story is to happen in reality, Phil’s obsession with Fisk’s life can be seen as an overt metaphor for social media. We see their wonderful lives unfold before us, and we want what they have, not knowing that everything isn’t all sunshine and roses for them as it may appear on the surface. Phil manages to answer a lot of pertinent philosophical and psychological questions while also being ridiculously funny and not without a small fragment of hope.
“…manages to answer a lot of pertinent philosophical and psychological questions while also being ridiculously funny…”
Greg Kinnear’s directorial debut is a unique comedy that asks questions we all want answers to, all with a wonderful screenplay by Stephen Mazur, cinematography by John Bailey (who was also the cinematographer for another Kinnear film you may have heard of, As Good As It Gets), and a number of incredible performances from Mortimer, Duplass, Whitford, as well as Luke Wilson, Taylor Schilling, Kurt Fuller, Robert Forrester, and of course Kinnear himself. If Phil is any indication, Kinnear could confidently add more titles to his directorial resume, no problem. This deep-thoughts comedy is a must-watch for fans of Greg’s, but also for anyone who wants something beyond frat boy comedy or the typical Apatovian-adjacent improv stuff that has become de rigueur at this point. It’s a special movie that I hope people enjoy as much as I did.
Phil (2019) Written by Stephen Mazur. Directed by Greg Kinnear. Starring Greg Kinnear, Emily Mortimer, Jay Duplass, Kurt Fuller, Robert Forrester, Taylor Schilling, Bradley Whitford, Luke Wilson, April Cameron, Megan Charpentier, Sarah Dugdale, Nicole Oliver
8 out of 10 stars