Genre: Comedy / Drama
Director: Alex Ross Perry
Cast: Jason Schwartzman, Elisabeth Moss, Jonathan Pryce, Krysten Ritter, Joséphine de La Baume and Eric Bogosian (narrator)
Distributor: Eureka Entertainment
Release date: 5th June 2015 (in selected cinemas)
Duration: 108 minutes
Alex Ross Perry is certainly making a name for himself as an indie director and screenwriter. Only 30 years of age, his first two limited releases, Impolex and The Color Wheel, have been met with critically acclaim at top film festivals. Since debuting at the Sundance Film Festival 2014, Listen Up Philip’s kudos has been no different during its festival circuit the past year.
Unfamiliar with Perry’s previous works, I went into the JDIFF screening optimistic. The concept and the casting – namely Jason Schwartzman (Rushmore and Bored to Death); Elisabeth Moss (Girl, Interrupted and Mad Men); Jonathan Pryce (Tomorrow Never Dies and Pirates of the Caribbean); and Krysten Ritter (Breaking Bad and Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23) – spurred my interest. Yet for all the its praise, I found myself as indifferent to Listen Up Philip as the titular character was to the people around him.
Listen Up Philip sees the eponymous Philip (played by Schwartzman), a self-absorbed, self-righteous author whose second novel is pending publication. Unable to create or relax in the hustle-and-bustle of Brooklyn, Philip withdraws from his live-in photographer girlfriend, Ashley (played by Moss) to the subdued cottage home of his literary idol, Ike Zimmerman (played by Pryce) – an equally egocentric and embittered author.
The opening sets high hopes: clever, cutting dialogue as well as a classic style down to the title card typeface, borrowed from novelist Philip Roth’s 1970s book covers; the moody jazz tones, scored by Keegan DeWitt; and the suave narrated segments, voiced by Eric Bogosian. Still, Perry’s jaded take on NYC artists and academics as cultured yet conceited jerks is pretty cliché.
Perry shifts the focus from one character to another. Though certain sections can feel drawn-out at times, such as when Ashley tries to get over how much of a selfish prick Philip was. Though Moss gives the character an authentic likeability. Furthermore, the Ike and Melanie (played by Ritter) narrative shows a strained and stroppy relationship between an insensitive father and the daughter he alienated over the years. However, this plot is left incomplete, as if it didn’t mattered anyway.
For my all my gripes, Listen Up Philip provides some worthy laughs along the way – mainly because Philip is an unapologetic jerk throughout. For example, when he tells Ashley that he will be moving into the rural retreat of his literary mentor for the foreseeable future, he states: “I hope this will be good for us, but especially for me.” Lines like these get big laughs because you realise how blind the central character is to his own delusion. These moments are flawlessly delivered by Schwartzman without irony.
But ultimately, Philip gains no progression or regression of character. And that’s the whole point. Which left me wondering what took so long for him to realise his self-induced isolation.
This article originally featured on Chunk.ie.