Alex Ross Perry’s daring, incisive character study, Listen Up Philip—brilliantly narrated by Eric Bogosian—chronicles the experiences of the arrogant, egotistical writer Philip Lewis Friedman (Jason Schwartzman) and the negative effects he has on others. Philip is called an “asshole” by most of the folks who know him, and “insufferable piece of shit” by one friend. Yet this young, successful author feels he is better than most. He detests almost everyone, and treats them brusquely. In the film’s opening moments, Philip dresses down his ex-girlfriend for being late, and then a friend for not achieving the goals he set. Finding a mentor in writer Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce)—a catalog of Ike’s book covers is fantastic—Philip leaves his roommate/girlfriend Ashley (Elizabeth Moss) in New York City for Ike’s country house. Philip tries to work, but he often engages in flip exchanges with Ike’s bitter daughter (Krysten Ritter). Listen Up Philip then spirals off to depict Ashley’s loneliness and recovery of her self-worth, as well as Ike’s own despair, before returning to Philip’s narrative in the last act. Teaching creative writing at a (fictional) college where he experiences a hate/love relationship with a jealous colleague, Yvonne (Josephine de la Baume), Philip is seen to be self-sabotaging or misunderstood—perhaps both. Perry’s talky film, set to an appropriately melancholic jazz score, is peculiar, fascinating, and wearying by equal measure. Narrative curlicues abound—a double date Ike and a friend have, or Ashley’s visit to her sister (Jess Weixler) in Philadelphia—but these sequences do reveal something about the characters. Yet it is Schwartzman’s blistering turn in the title role that makes the film both pungent and funny. A scene where he gives a student who asks for a recommendation letter a piece of paper with some staples in it instead shows Philip at his best/worst, and viewers who appreciate such moments, will applaud Listen Up Philip.
At the Philadelphia Film Festival Sunday October 19, 7:10 pm Ritz East; Sunday October 26, 12:15 pm, Ritz East.
Listen Up Philip will be released theatrically in Philadelphia on October 31.
Author: Gary M. Kramer
Gary M. Kramer is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer. He is the co-editor of Directory of World Cinema: Argentina. Volumes 1 and 2, and teaches seminars at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute. Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer.