Sam (Brandon Stacy) has an important showing of his latest paintings scheduled for later in the day, so stress is already at an all-time high for Sam and his girlfriend, Jackie (Meredith Shank). When Sam’s brother Phin (Eric Frentzel) drops by unannounced, things go beyond stressful. See, Phin is a victim of brain damage caused in a car accident, and he tends to change his personality based on whatever he is doing or experiencing. If he’s in the kitchen, he’s a chef, for example.
While Sam and Jackie try to contain Phin and hide him away, prestigious (read: a*****e) art dealer Carl (Robert Younis) drops by with his assistant Susan (Erin Elizabeth Patrick). Carl is unimpressed with Sam’s work, but actions conspire to let Phin loose into the mix, and things get odd fast. Events also reveal many secrets and cause other repressed conflicts to finally come to a head.
Patrick A. Chapman’s Phin is a very interesting mix of genres and tone. While there are certainly moments in the film that are humorous, I wouldn’t come right out and call this a comedy. And while there are dramatic elements, the humor in spots cautions me from being too strong in the drama category either. Thriller? The uncertainty surrounding Phin lends itself to a fear of the unknown, of what someone as seemingly unhinged as he is could be capable of doing. So does the film defy genre, or is it more like life itself, changing genre when events dictate?
I’m going to go with the sloppy mix of reality, as that best explains the highs and lows that are rampant in this film. While some moments are a little hard to believe, the film at least makes them work enough so that, while you may behave differently (I certainly wouldn’t stick around as long as some people do), you don’t entirely disagree that someone else would handle the situation the way the characters in the film do. At least it is true to itself.
The film also makes good use of an indie film staple, a bunch of people stuck in a single location, relying on narrative and performance to keep the film interesting. The film naturally reveals information about the characters without it feeling forced, adding more depth other than just dabbling in lazy levels of “here’s Sam and his crazy brother Phin” or “what nutty thing is Phin doing now?” narrative. In this way, characters have growth and arcs that you wouldn’t expect them to have, at least not early on in the film.
And while that is mostly the narrative supplying the character development fuel, you need actors who can digest and do something with it. In this case, while no one is a slouch in their performances, it does come down to how Brandon Stacy embodies Sam and Eric Frentzel portrays Phin. In the former’s case, it’s a performance where we see Sam as lost in his life, and also someone who has had enough experience with Phin that, no matter how annoyed he gets, there’s a silent acceptance. They are brothers, after all. Frentzel’s Phin is wild-eyed, and could easily be seen as dangerous, but there is also a harmless nature to him that comes out as he morphs from personality trait to personality trait. Then again, if you gave him the wrong personality to switch to, look out.
Overall, Phin delivers an intriguing tale of personal growth, albeit for characters you might not expect. The strength of the piece is its performances, hugged closely by the narrative behind them. It’s a successful mix of genre, apropos to life itself.
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