Wednesday 3 June 2015


(Alex Ross Perry, 2014)

Listen Up Philip features a narration - nicely spoken by Eric Bogosian - explaining the thoughts and feelings of the characters in what I assume is meant to be a parody of a pompous literary style, perhaps the style for which protagonist Philip (Jason Schwartzman, excellent) gains increasing fame and success during (and after) the events chronicled in the film. With that in mind, it's hard to understand whether the grammatical errors and thuddingly clunky writing in that narration are a deliberate thing, meant by Perry to indicate that Philip isn't half as clever as he thinks he is; or if they're just proof that Perry himself isn't half as clever as he thinks he is.
That throws up the question of just how auto-biographical this film is. It does follow the relationship difficulties suffered by a young artist in the aftermath of his first success. He slowly withdraws from his relationship with Ashley (Elizabeth Moss), who has supported him during years of struggle. He basks in the attention of Ike (Jonathan Pryce) a legendary, Roth-like New York novelist many years his senior, who himself loves the adoration and intense devotion of his young protege. He falls into a relationship with Yvette, a teacher at the upstate college where he gets a teaching job, thanks to Ike.
Throughout it all, Philip is insufferable; arrogant, misanthropic and pretentious. You watch it wondering why anybody wants anything to do with him.
Schwartzman plays him with no vanity, only a hint of self-absorbed melancholy. This is a young man who has read too many novels about romantic outsiders, but can't quite mange to make himself one. He's just selfish asshole. In that he resembles Pryce's Ike, who has ruined every relationship he's ever had due to his own ego, and alienates his own daughter (Krysten Ritter, an open wound of childhood trauma and neediness) with another diatribe here.
The only moments in the film away from egotistical artists are the passages focusing on Moss' character as she comes to terms with losing Philip and finds herself once again. She is fantastic here, subtle and moving in her halting attempts to rebuild her life and ego after his abrupt move upstate.
She has one moment - a series of emotions rippling across her face in the aftermath of her finally crushing any possibility that she and Philip might ever be together again - which is probably the best moment of screen acting I've seen this year. If the rest of the film is a darkly funny, quietly excruciating, often finely-observed literary-style comedy-drama, her storyline is uplifting and speaks of the light, beautiful moments in a life. The kind of thing we see in cinema all to rarely.

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