'Phil' review: A messy story about a suicidal dentist

In “Phil,” Greg Kinnear acts and directs, which has left him without at least one important person to say “no.” Still, even the most exacting auteur might have labored to help him make sense of this title character. The film opens with Phil, a suicidal dentist, preparing to throw himself off a bridge, then backing off, despite the encouragement of onlookers and the thematically appropriate musical accompaniment of “(I Never Promised You a) Rose Garden” on his car radio.

'Phil' review: A messy story about a suicidal dentist

Phil is still getting over a divorce and, it seems, is clinically depressed. Kinnear strains to convey the character’s inner torment while making him outwardly comic — or at least that appears to be the intent, judging from Rolfe Kent’s sprightly laugh track of a score. Like all depressed people, Phil goes to work with his hair uncombed. Soon he becomes obsessed with a patient, Michael (Bradley Whitford), who has written a successful book on Socrates and looks to have life figured out.

Desperate to learn the secret to Michael’s happiness, Phil begins stalking him — and finds him hanging from a tree. Phil starts posing as Michael’s long-lost friend from Greece and insinuates his way into the life of Michael’s widow, Alicia (Emily Mortimer). If Kinnear’s impersonation of sorrow is cringe-worthy, his “Mrs. Doubtfire” routine — Phil, having agreed to remodel Alicia’s bathroom, learns a few Greek words and tries to smoke a Turkish cigarette — is simply painful.

The subject of suicide sits uneasily alongside scenes in which, for example, Kinnear thrashes about while trying to keep up with a Greek dance. The only thing grimmer than the material in “Phil” is its execution.

‘Phil’

Rated R for mistreatment of the bereaved. Running time: 1 hour 46 minutes.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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