Listen Up Philip – Review by Frank L.
Director: Alex Ross Perry
Writer: Alex Ross Perry
Stars: Jason Schwartzman, Elisabeth Moss, Jonathan Pryce
The second novel of Philip Lewis Friedman (Jason Schwartzman) is on the verge of publication. The opening sequence is of him meeting his favourite ex-girlfriend to present her with an inscribed copy of it. This information is fed to us by a narrator. Philip’s innate rudeness makes the meeting become tense almost immediately; he quickly descends into his default mode which is verbal aggressiveness.
As he leaves, he takes the inscribed copy of the new novel, tears out neatly the title page with the inscription, scrunches it up and throws it away. He then meets an old literary comrade in arms and once more behaves aggressively in his self-absorbed manner which makes no allowances for his friend’s physical limitations. The two sequences introduce well the ensuing story.
In his own domestic existence, Philip is sponging off his current girlfriend Ashley (Elizabeth Moss). He treats her as being someone of no consequence. A well-established, mature writer Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Bryce) befriends him. Hard to understand why but maybe on the principle that it takes a shit to recognise another one. He moves to Ike’s country retreat, without a qualm thereby ditching, on a whim, Ashley. So he continues on his way as a “me” person. Although Philip is odious what makes the film work is the narrator who manages to highlight the humour in his infantile behaviour.
Schwartzman’s style of acting is almost non-acting which leads to the unsettling thought that he in real life may be as obnoxious as Philip. He was at all times convincing even when his self-obsession is at its most rampant. Jonathan Bryce cuts a figure of arrogant hauteur as he handles his literary fame as Ike Zimmerman which is not that of a major figure. His part is almost stereotypical to be entirely convincing. This leaves Elizabeth Moss who had a tricky role to play as the hard working emerging, commercial photographer who has the misfortune to be in love with Philip. She manages to make Ashley credible in tolerating Philip as he behaves consistently poorly towards her. It was a satisfying performance.
This is a movie about the insecurities of those who try to make it in the creative bear pit that is New York. The everyday toughness of the struggle with yourself and those who are your “friends” is well described. It is an impressive glimpse into a world which undoubtedly has glamour but is also unrelenting. It creates a feeling of needing to see that world but like the narrator from a distance. Listen Up Philip allows that opportunity.