A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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.
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 ...
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?
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