Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Phil Movie Poster Image
Sitcom-like plot derails tired, lie-driven dramedy.
  • R
  • 2019
  • 101 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

No clear message, but movie does get viewers thinking about life itself. Brings up Socrates and quote "the unexamined life is not worth living," attempts to determine how true this is. But ultimately references another quote attributed to Socrates -- "The only thing I know is that I know nothing" -- and provides no real answers. Prompts viewers into thinking about idea that maybe there isn't a clear answer for our attitudes and actions, that happy people can sometimes be sad, and vice versa.

Positive Role Models & Representations

No clear role models. Main character lies throughout the movie, eventually faces consequences but still doesn't truly believe that what he did was all that bad.


Character shown hanging from noose in tree, dead via suicide. Brief nightmare sequences. Mentions of cancer.


Man removes shirt; partial buttocks shown. Partial female buttocks shown in shower; she covers her breasts with her arms. Suggestions of an extramarital affair.


Several uses of "f--k" and "s--t" (both written and spoken), plus "bitch," "p---y," "bastard," "goddamn," "jerk off," "hell," "idiot," "masturbator," and "oh God" (as an exclamation).

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Main character purchases several bottles of ouzo and glugs straight from the bottle. Staggering drunk in one sequence. Fairly frequent social drinking. Regular cigarette smoking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Phil is a dramedy about a man (Greg Kinnear, also making his directorial debut) who wants to know why another man died via suicide and lies to insinuate himself into the dead man's family. The dead man is shown hanging by a noose from a tree, and there are a couple of startling nightmare sequences. Language includes several uses of "f--k," "s--t," and more. A man removes his shirt, and his partial naked buttocks are shown. Part of a woman's naked bottom is also shown as she showers, though she covers her front with her arms. An affair is suggested. Characters drink frequently -- very much to excess in one sequence -- and there's lots of cigarette smoking. The movie doesn't quite work, mainly because of a sitcom-y "lie" plot that renders everything insincere, but it does have a few nice moments and a thoughtful theme.

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What's the story?

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' dictum "the unexamined life is not worth living" and encourages Phil to get out there and follow his dreams. Intrigued, Phil starts following Michael and his wife, Alicia (Emily Mortimer), but is shocked to discover that Michael has killed himself. 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?

Is it any good?

This dramedy (Kinnear's directing debut) has its touching, thoughtful moments, but mostly it relies on a creaky old sitcom-like "lie" plot that douses nearly every potential laugh. 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 instead the character gulps, lamely smokes, and coughs his head off. And it's supposed to be funny.

As a director, Kinnear is better at serious moments, such as 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 all ring false. 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 does get bonus points for avoiding a neatly packaged ending and allowing for a little life mystery, but on the whole it doesn't quite work.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Phil depicts drinking and smoking. Does the movie glamorize them? Are there consequences? Why does that matter?

  • How does the movie deal with the subject of suicide?

  • What are the consequences of Phil's lying/pretense? Do those consequences feel realistic?

  • What does the Socrates quote "the unexamined life is not worth living" mean? Do you agree with it?

  • Have you ever felt sad but tried to put on a happy face for the world around you? What was the experience like?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love drama and comedy

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