Anger rages in Philip as he awaits the publication of his second novel. He feels pushed out of his adopted home city by the constant crowds and noise, a deteriorating relationship with his photographer girlfriend Ashley, and his own indifference to promoting the novel. When Philip’s idol Ike Zimmerman offers his isolated summer home as a refuge, he finally gets the peace and quiet to focus on his favorite subject: himself.
‘Listen Up Philip’, the third feature from American indie director Alex Ross Perry, is a sharp and insightful film about creative minds, seen primarily through the eyes of a self-centred and arrogant author in New York. That man is the titular Philip (Jason Schwartzman), a writer who feels bored of his daily life and his relationship with his girlfriend (Elisabeth Moss) as he awaits the publication of his second novel. He chooses to get away from his regular life with the help of his idol, and fellow writer Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce), who offers him the use of his summer home to get away from it all.
The first challenge the film faces is with its central character, who initially comes across as obnoxious, self-absorbed and easy to dislike, and he doesn’t get much better throughout the film! This is helped by the casting of Jason Schwartzman, who helps to make the character interesting and at least a little bit relatable, albeit I don’t think we ever get to the stage where Philip becomes likable. His interactions with Jonathan Pryce’s elderly author are amongst the film’s highlights, and are particularly great at shining a light on the creative process and how stagnation can set in once a writer achieves a degree of success. Perry has succeeded in putting together an interesting portrayal of creative individuals and with a great degree of sharpness and wit, he shows how easily they can get wrapped up in their own sense of self importance. Perry isn’t making excuses for the behaviour of his characters, but he is showing how easy it is to fall into Philip’s trap.
Whilst the narrative does start to meander a bit once we move into the second half of the film, the performances help to elevate some of the poorer material. Elisabeth Moss isn’t given the greatest material but she’s a strong actress and helps us to sympathise with her spurned lover, and Krysten Ritter is a solid presence across TV and Film. Jonathan Pryce is the real standout though, and he does seem to be everywhere at the moment, with roles in TV shows such as ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Wolf Hall’ adding to his recent film resume with ‘Woman in Gold’ and ‘The Salvation’.
‘Listen Up Philip’ is a darkly funny movie about a self-absorbed writer that showcases strong performances from Schwartzman and Pryce that mostly help the film to overcome some of the meandering points in the script.
Directed By: Alex Ross Perry
Starring: Jason Schwartzman, Elisabeth Moss, Krysten Ritter, Jonathan Pryce, Josephine de la Baume and Eric Bogosian