New from Al and Linda Lerner on Movies and Shakers: Phil

Greg Kinnear directs himself as a dentist with suicidal tendencies in a bizarre dark comedy. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Kinnear surrounds himself with a stellar cast for his first foray directing. Emily Mortimer (Mary Poppins Returns, TVs “The Newsroom”), Jay Duplass (TVs “Transparent,” The Mindy Project”), Taylor Schilling (TV’s “Orange Is The New Black,”), Kurt Fuller (TVs “Anger Management”) with Luke Wilson (Legally Blonde series) and Bradley Whitford (Get Out, TVs“The West Wing”). 

Stephen Mazur (Heartbreakers, Liar Liar) sent Kinnear the screenplay which made him laugh and piqued Kinnear’s interest not only to play the lead but to try his hand at directing. It explores the meaning and value of life, but in an odd way. He also hired cinematographer John Bailey he worked with on As Good As It Gets, for which Kinnear was Oscar nominated. 

Kinnear is a likable actor, but here he plays a down in the dumps, divorced father who tries to commit suicide by jumping off a bridge. He stops when he gets razzed by a car filled with boys with cell phones eager to make his jump go viral. He backs down and back at the office, he is intrigued by patient, Michael Fisk (Bradley Whitford), an author exuberant about the success of his book and his wonderful wife and daughter. How does this guy have the perfect life? Phil decides to stalk Fisk to find out his secret of success, but is the first to discover the man’s body after he committed suicide. Phil becomes morbidly obsessed to find out why. 

He takes it upon himself to investigate Fisk’s family and friends to find out why a man so successful would do such a thing. This is where it just goes off the rails. Fisk had a close friend in Greece named Spyros Papalapadopoulos (that’s a mouthful). Phil impersonates Spyros to pretend he knew Fisk to get more information from Fisk’s wife, Alicia (Mortimer). In process, he offers to finish construction on a bathroom Fisk never really started so he can get in the good graces of Alicia and hang around the house looking for clues. Kinnear is kind of engaging and even a little cute as Spyros, but here’s where it gets ridiculous. 

The big physically funny scene is when Phil, as Spyros, finishes the bathroom, (with great difficulty since he didn’t know what he was doing) and the film cuts to a scene with Emily in the shower. The moisture makes the tile fall right off the walls and the plumbing blows up while she’s in the shower. Mortimer’s reaction is on point. First clue that Spyros is not what he says he is. 

Interesting that the script originally called for Fisk’s friend to be Scottish, but Kinnear thought he could pull of Greek better because when his own Dad was a diplomat, his family lived in Greece for 6 years. Still, his Greek accent we found marginal and, even knowing he was trying to look bad dancing like Zorba, it looked poorly staged and could have been directed better. We appreciated the effort but it wasn’t even remotely convincing. 

Luke Wilson, an investigator into Fisk’s death, discovers Phil’s badly executed Greek cover story. They never have a scene where they go to Phil’s apartment and see the wall filled with pictures and accumulated evidence about Fisk he’s gathered which would be proof enough of something not quite right. There’a a short scene between Wilson and Kinnear that wraps it up much too quickly giving Phil’s weird behavior a pass.

In process, Phil’s relationship with his own daughter gets better and Phil has a new appreciation for Greece. What a surprise! This was a lot for Kinnear to tackle directing and directing himself for the first time. He knew he could beat up on himself to get what he wanted out of his performance. He wanted this to be an emotional journey exploring life and death, but having funny as well as morbid moments. This is supposed to be a dark comedy. But we wish there had been more comedy. You may not want to yell “Opa” to this one. 

Quiver          1 hour 46 minutes           R

from Movies and Shakers

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