His Neighbor Phil is a work of fiction, but one that very realistically chronicles the life of a family facing younger onset Alzheimer’s. The movie aptly demonstrates the ups and downs millions of families face every single day. From the first frame, it gently draws its viewers in with a heartfelt story that could just as easily be yours or mine.
Scott Thompson, who wrote and directed the film, skillfully peels back the many layers of this difficult subject matter in a brief ninety minutes. Thompson takes us through the full spectrum of emotions from moments of joy and unapologetic laughter through profound sadness – very true to life.
Stephanie Zimbalist offers a brilliant performance as Mary, a witty, engaging wife and mother in her late 50’s. As Mary goes about her daily routine, we see poignant moments of clarity that mirror what many of us have witnessed in our own loved ones. At one point, she apologizes for “being so much trouble,” and as viewers, our hearts just sink.
Mary’s gentle, loving husband Harvey is played by Daniel Roebuck. The patience and tenderness he shows as he cares for his wife are exceptionally touching. Harvey exudes a quiet strength and devotion as her partner and protector, and his commitment is unwavering. When he takes Mary back to the local theater they once managed together, he discovers that music triggers something in her. While the music plays, he has his Mary back; this becomes a key element in the story.
As an adult daughter who watched my mother’s heartbreaking decline at the hand of Alzheimer’s, I found Kristi Knudson’s stinging portrayal of daughter Isabel to be spot on. Though difficult to watch at times, Knudson hit the mark with regard to the frustration, denial, and anger that comes with reluctantly assuming the role as your own mother’s caregiver. By the end of the film, she softens, accepting Mary for who she is now; the viewer is left with a sense that they are finally in a good place.
Supporting roles were brilliantly cast to highlight the depth and complexity of both the storyline and the characters themselves. In particular, Ellen Dolan’s quirky, free-spirited “Charlie” (Mary’s sister) provides bits of clever comic relief as well as some of the most moving moments in the film.
Likewise, Sally Kellerman’s depiction of Mary’s mother, Bernadette, was flawless. While we initially see this character as rather stoic and emotionless, we quickly watch that façade melt away. Although Kellerman’s screen time is minimal, her performance packed a powerful punch.
His Neighbor Phil proves it doesn’t take a huge budget or the magic of Hollywood to create a beautiful film that inspires hearts and minds. It was shot in Zumbrota, Minnesota, population 3,300, and the citizens of that town provided the majority of the film’s funding along with meals and lodging for the cast and crew.
Apparently this off the beaten path little town in Minnesota is also home to quite a bit of acting talent! A total of 18 local residents appeared in the film, including Kristi Knudson who had never acted before jumping into the role of Isabel! You can read more about the making of the movie in an article from SouthernMinn.com.
I truly loved the film and hope you’ll have an opportunity to see it. For more information about bringing His Neighbor Phil to your area, contact Lori LaBey, founder of Alzheimer’s Speaks at Lori@AlzheimersSpeaks.com.