The issue of depression has become a talking point among the contemporary generation, but there isn’t much conversation where the older members of the community are concerned. Bringing the topic in focus with a genuine and at times heartbreaking message is Phil, the directorial debut of the talented Greg Kinnear, a tale of overcoming loss by picking the few happy pieces one can find in their life.
Our protagonist, a lonely, divorced middle-aged dentist with a suicidal bout of mid-life crisis, finds himself enthralled with a patient, whom he considers to be the perfect man, what with his beautiful wife, doting daughter, and the people in his life who love and respect him – everything that is missing from Phil’s life.
Before long, Phil takes to stalking Michael to have some semblance of what a happy middle-aged life feels like. There’s only one snag in his plans. Michael heads into the woods one day, and hangs himself.
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This raises the question – why would the man who had everything take his life? The film does a good job at leaving this hanging over our heads the whole time. And even if you find yourself losing interest in the plot progression, the curiosity over Michael’s motivations will keep you invested.
Phil inadvertently enters Michael’s home under the guise of “Spiros”, an old Greek friend whom Michael had called on to renovate his bathroom. And so begins Phil’s connection with Michael’s widow, steering the story into somewhat of a romantic comedy territory.
This is where Phil feels like a hit-and-a-miss, as Phil’s kooky attempts to come across as Greek and a house contractor are painfully lame, although Kinnear’s charm prevents it from toppling totally into the cheesy category.
Where the film is at its most honest representation are the moments where you feel Phil’s case of identity crisis; he’s a man who wants it all, but doesn’t know what “all” exactly means.
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Emily Mortimer’s Alicia is a more engaging character to follow, with her portrayal of a grieving and confused widow feeling like a missed opportunity for not being delved into further; her accent, though, does come across as forced. It would’ve been a better course for her to stick to her natural English accent.
However, the actress is in fine form here. She delivers an aptly raw take on how hurt a spouse would feel when faced with the reality that they weren’t enough for their significant other.
It’s a shame Kinnear didn’t take note of the fact that the supporting characters bolstered the movie more than Phil did. The presence of the likes of Kurt Fuller, Bradley Whitford, Jay Duplass elevate any humdrum proceedings into an entertaining piece of film.
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As a directorial effort, Kinnear turn doesn’t come across as very effective, considering we don’t see any inspirational representation onscreen, be it cinematographic wizardry or subtle plot devices, or even a noteworthy piece of music – none of which can be found here.
At times, he seems to have attempted to use semi-nudity to showcase the characters in their barest state. These attempts come across as more needless than thought-provoking, though.
Rather, it is Kinnear’s penchant for playing an everyman you like right off the bat that is his greatest asset.
You get the sense that the film would have turned out better had it taken the course of either being a straight up romantic comedy or a complete drama, since Kinnear was unable to find the balance between the two with what we saw of Phil.
Still, the ultimate message isn’t lost on the viewer. The idea of finding what’s right in your life rather than focusing on what you don’t have.
It’s just that you need to find it within the performances of the cast than wait for the film to spell it out for you.
By Saim Cheeda
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