Listen Up Philip

Posted by Joel Copling on November 4, 2014

Philip Lewis Friedman (Jason Schwartzman) likes nothing and no one. It's a fair statement to make, because in the opening minutes, he finds catharsis in ripping a new one into a girlfriend whom he believes does not support him in the way he feels he deserves to be. Philip is an author, you see, and his new book has been released (Philip makes it very clear that he expected the girlfriend not to notice; we wonder why she stays with him). We know he is an irascible, irrationally stubborn individual, and if we ever are to forget this fact, Eric Bogosian's concise, if pointless, narration will inform us of this. Luckily, the narration is the only element of "Listen Up Philip" and its screenplay, written by director Alex Ross Perry, that is dishonest; otherwise, this movie knows Philip's very essence and just simply shows it to us.

Aside from having had a girlfriend for the duration of the opening sequence, Philip lives with his best friend-with-benefits Ashley Kane (Elisabeth Moss), who for a while seems the only person on God's green Earth able to stomach his venom for everything that surrounds him. Ashley is also the film's basis in sanity. When Perry shifts the focus from Philip to Ashley while the former is away teaching a class for the duration of a semester, it's pretty blatantly clear this is the film's way of catching a breath from the like of Philip, who hates both the minimal amount of attention he has gotten from a groupie-like cohort (one of which, played by Dree Hemingway, he attempted to woo a year or two earlier, though she doesn't remember) and the lack thereof from those he considers his friends (which seems to be an exclusive group).

The other important relationship in the film is that with Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce), a renowned author who hasn't written in six years and exhibits many of the same personality traits as Philip. He hosts dinner parties with people he doesn't even seem to like. He tells his daughter Melanie (Krysten Ritter) that she and her mother are and, in the case of the long-deceased mother, were disappointments. He takes a liking to Philip because he sees in the man a younger version of himself, though he can't ignore the obvious arrogance of Philip's every, solitary second. Pryce's performance isn't a crucial success to the movie, much as the two central ones are, but he impresses here, especially when he has a minor emotional breakdown during a dinner party.

But the real story of the film is Schwartzman, whose multifaceted turn as Philip Lewis Friedman is our guide through his own narcissism (and he definitely wouldn't entrust the role of guide to any other). Philip isn't a likable person, but Schwartzman makes him human all the same. Even reprehensible behavior, such as mourning the loss of a great creative partnership when the real tragedy is that the would-be partner, another author named Josh Fawn (Keith Poulson), has ended his life in the prime of it, is an extension on his character. Moss is also excellent as Ashley's friendship with Philip (who does nothing but make her feel second-class) slowly implodes; she needs some sort of reciprocation from him, and he just needs her to realize that his happiness is more important than what she wants. "Listen Up Philip" hears both sides, and it's all the more generous for doing so.

Film Information

Jason Schwartzman (Philip Lewis Friedman), Elisabeth Moss (Ashley Kane), Jonathan Pryce (Ike Zimmerman), Krysten Ritter (Melanie Zimmerman), Joséphine de La Baume (Yvette Dussart), Jess Weixler (Holly Kane), Dree Hemingway (Emily), Keith Poulson (Josh Fawn), Kate Lyn Sheil (Nancy).

Directed and written by Alex Ross Perry.

No MPAA rating.

108 minutes.

Released in select cities on October 17, 2014.