PHIL (AKA THE PHILOSOPHY OF PHIL)
As of this writing I have reviewed only thirteen 2019 films (I didn't go see The Curse of La Llorona for any other reason apart from cheap-to-tawdry entertainment). Having said that, I feel confident that Phil (or as the title actually reads, The Philosophy of Phil) will earn its place as one of if not the Worst Film of 2019. This is the kind of project where one feels genuinely sorry for everyone involved.
I'd bet even the catering company regrets their involvement with Phil.
Depressed divorced dentist Phil McGuire (Greg Kinnear in his directorial debut) wonders why he has such a miserable life while others have it all together. This is compounded by a new patient, Michael Fisk (Bradley Whitford), who has a happy marriage and an unexpected success with a book on Socrates.
Phil decides to do the rational thing and stalk Michael to find the key to eternal joy, but he happens to stalk him on the day Michael goes into the woods to hang himself. Phil is so shocked at finding Michael's body that he flees the scene, only later realizing he took Michael's shoes in his panic. Now more puzzled, Phil decides he needs to find out why this seemingly successful and happy man ended it all.
For that, Phil ends up mistaken by Michael's widow Alicia (Emily Mortimer) for a long-lost Greek friend, 'Spyros Papalapalapulu' (that's as close to a phonetic spelling of a name that everyone in Phil struggles with, especially Phil himself). As 'Spyros', Phil hoodwinks Alicia into finishing the family bathroom, which is the perfect disguise for his 'undercover' work. This does mean neglecting his dental patients, leaving his poor office manager Rahel (April Cameron) to try and sort out the ensuing chaos.
'Spyros' keeps digging to find 'the truth'. Could Michael have had a secret cancer diagnosis? Could Sam (Taylor Schilling), a pretty colleague of Michael's, have been his mistress who ended up pregnant? Phil keeps up this 'Spyros' rouse despite his brother Malcolm (Jay Duplass) telling him he's gone off the deep end.
The jig is finally up thanks to actual detective work by Detective Welling (Luke Wilson). Eventually though, Alicia moves on and Phil, after a second albeit accidental suicide attempt, creates a stronger bond with his own daughter Molly (Megan Charpentier).
Phil is a disaster. A total absolute disaster, a horror of a film that is more sad than cringe-inducing, though it is that. It's a comedy that is not funny and a drama that is not serious.
The blame for what should be titled The Fiasco of Phil lies with three people. At the bottom of the list is composer Rolfe Kent. His score is so wildly out-of-tune with the scenes (pun intended). The music is shockingly cutesy for the scenes of Phil breaking and entering, rummaging through dead men's things to delve into something that is frankly none of his business. Over and over the score does not rise about second-rate sitcom music and just does not fit any of its scenes.
Rolfe, however, was working with substandard material, and here is where the second-largest share of blame goes to screenwriter Stephen Mazur. Not once in his screenplay did any of the characters seem even remotely real or rational. Mazur's idea of laughs comes from having Phil learn "Go to hell, asshole masturbater", in Greek.
All the characters are either insane or stupid. Phil is genuinely bonkers in his stalking of the Fisk family, let alone abandoning his dental practice on this oddball whim. Alicia is just stupid and/or crazy to believe 'Spyros' is who he is, let alone let a total stranger work on her house. Then you have Michael's father Bing (Robert Forster) who claims to know 'Spyros' but who genuinely has no idea that this 'Spyros' is a fake.
Was he actually fooled or was Bing genuinely if not equally nuts?
Even Detective Welling seems stupid. Poorly acted by Wilson, whose sole acting choice is to narrow or widen his eyebrows, we have what I think is a major plot-hole. Welling mentions that Michael's shoes were not found near his body, but after he arrests Phil we are also expected to believe that Welling never actually searched Phil's home because right under his bed are Michael's shoes, which hid a suicide note.
They arrest Phil but don't find Michael's shoes? What, did they not search Phil's home? Did they not notice a large board that Malcolm openly tells his brother looks like something a serial killer would set up?
Not only would he not convince anyone he was remotely Greek (his mention of a half-Greek grandfather making a Hellenic connection extremely tenuous) but too much time is wasted on the 'wackiness' of Phil/Spyros remodeling the Fisk bathroom. Kinnear has no visual style and after watching all the performances save perhaps Duplass one senses that Kinnear's directing consisted of telling the actors in a nice, soft voice, "OK, go" and left them to figure out how to deliver their lines, accepting any take and just telling the editor in what order they should go.
Duplass barely escapes with at most an adequate performance as he was about the only rational person in Phil. To be fair Cameron, despite a squeaky voice, was the best as the put-upon and besieged Rahel to where I would have preferred a film centering around either or both of them rather than the morose and probably insane Phil.
As a side note, the remodeling eventually turns disastrous both pre-and-post completion: as Alicia is sobbing about finding 'Spyros'' true identity while in the shower, the whole thing starts collapsing on her. Tiles soon start breaking off the walls and the shower head starts ratting and I think almost falls on her. Perhaps this is indicative of how bad Phil was: what should or would normally be a serious and sad moment is trashed by inept comedy.
I like Greg Kinnear ever since he hosted Talk Soup. He has a pleasant manner and talent. It's good to see he wants to branch out to working behind the camera. However, Phil is a dreadful calling card: unfunny, illogical, poorly acted. It is pretty much insulting to the audience.
At a certain point when he realizes just how far things have gone, Phil says, "This has got to end". Would that he have said the same about Phil itself.