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LISTEN UP PHILIP

June 5, 2015

Film + EntertainmentReview | by Francesco Cerniglia


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A kind of Ludovico technique employing the most painstakingly uncomfortable moments from Woody Allen’s oeuvre, Alex Ross Perry’s 3rd feature cuts to the quick in a darkly comic ‘fuck you’ to an arrogant author. We find Philip (Jason Schwartzman) the eponymously named character in the clarion call title Listen Up, Philip slowly stewing in a sea of his own carefully crafted acerbic ripostes. His successful first novel has exacerbated some already poor personal qualities and, with little impulse control, he begins to exercise a series of petty revenges on those close to him.

A bad penny Holden Caulfield gradually acclimatized to unkindness, the long list of Philip’s incredible callousness eventually mounts up and he begins to buckle under the repercussions. Finding publicity too gauche, he refuses to promote his difficult second novel. Committed to career suicide, as he spirals into discontent, he doesn’t dilute but wanes on occasion, investigating his dissatisfaction through a series of rendezvous with ex-girlfriends.

Searching for solace from the noise of New York, he finds a kindred spirit in his idol and mentor Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce), staying in his country home for increasingly extended periods. Ike’s self-imposed solitude has driven almost everyone else away from his life, except his long-suffering daughter Melanie (Krysten Ritter).

But obdurately wearing a heavy woollen jacket despite a warm New York Summer, Philip is so oversubscribed to the abstracted ideal of the misanthropic author that he doesn’t anticipate his own future unhappiness by association. Melanie, caught in the lifetime of drift of her talented father’s narcissistic behaviour warns, “I’m not charmed by you… I don’t like you. You’re just like him. And I hope you learn to take responsibility for yourself before you hurt the people you care about.”

Philip though, truly digs his own grave. With every wrongheaded decision he makes, heaping another spade of hubris atop it. It’s truly queasy how dissolutely self-involved he quickly becomes. Every possible pivotal moment a road not taken, his fundamental selfishness giving him no consolation from the series of romantic and career related indignities that befall him. Square-peg round-holed into an incompatible creative writing professorship, his small collegiate quarters and relative isolation see his resolve flag further.

A barbed, Eric Bogosian voiced, narration offers an unrelenting omniscient insight throughout. The conceit works to somewhat soften Philip’s abrasiveness and at times even a little pathos creeps in.

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Occasionally, the narrative changes sway, focusing instead on the comparatively emotionally-congruent Ashley (Elizabeth Moss) as she looks back on her relationship and tries to find ground again on her own. Made more so against Schwartzman’s intractable turn, lost-at-sea, this contemplative portrayal gives Moss room for a superlative performance.

Listen Up Philip is a schadenfreude heavy literary corker, with a leifmotif of unlikability running through. You’ll grimace at every turn of the screw in this finely attuned take down of the egotist auteur and satire of the angry young man genre. In the first five minutes I simply scribbled ‘Asshole’.

Listen Up Philip is released in UK cinemas on June 5th

Cormac O’Brien