Jason Schwartzman stars in the new film Listen Up Philip, directed by Alex Ross Perry, about a writer who decides that pursuing his talent is more important than any form of meaningful relationship.
Philip is awaiting the publication of his sure-to-be successful second novel. He feels pushed out of his city in order to get in touch with his creativity. His relationship with his girlfriend Ashley (Elizabeth Moss) is falling apart, and he has no intent to promote his own novel, leading him to shack up with his new mentor Ike (Jonathan Pryce), leaving his city life behind. Each has their own motives: Ike wants someone he can use to elevate his sense of self-importance, and Philip wants to stay true to all of the clichés while debunking them by seeking a true artistic experience.
I don’t think I could be in a room with any of these characters for more than five minutes without wanting to leave or without hitting them over the head. It’s a film about calculated egotism, the absolute in-your-face pride creative types have over their own self-worth, and it doesn’t let any of them off the hook. Philip is a maddeningly nihilistic, insecure jerk, and Ike is a know-it-all who believes that he’s superior to the relationships he’s tossed away in the past. Even Ashely, who is the most likable of the three, still has her own level of ego, especially when you see her interacting with her sister. We’re never supposed to congratulate these character flaws, and we’re not supposed to see them as justified by their talent. These people, Philip and Ike in particular, are hugely unpleasant individuals who’ve let their own egregious attitudes toward their own skills ruin any type of charm they may have at one point in time possessed.
That being sad: Schwartzman is a delight in the role, making Philip, as despicable of a person as he is, immensely watchable. From Rushmore to Listen Up Philip, Schwartzman has often played characters who are often either misunderstood, posturing wildly, smug, or all of the above, and Listen Up Philip is a wonderful amalgamation of all that he’s done thus far in his career, and it very well may be his best performance to date.
Supporting turns by Moss and Pryce are equally as strong, with each getting their own segments to truly shine. Moss in particular delivers an interesting performance, playing equally off-putting as well as alluring.
The script is a persistent exercise in language. The characters are constantly trying to say something that contradicts the words coming out of their moths. It’s all about people who know one another through a shallow filter. They think they’re saying what they mean when instead they’re simply playing a part they’ve written for themselves. It’s hard to know what to want from these characters when they’ve seemingly given up all pretenses of changing, aside from Ashely, who gets a cat, learns to love her job without Philip and how to live alone.
Despite enjoying the film from a technical standpoint, I don’t know how well I enjoyed it. It is a well done film by director Perry, and the performances and script are all nicely executed, but it wasn’t anything I connected to. Like its characters, the film is largely emotionless, merely a portrait, a glimpse into another world but largely surface level. Running a bit longer than it needs to doesn’t help, but regardless of any nitpicks, this is surely an interesting film and unlike many put out this year. It has its own particular atmosphere stamped on it.
Listen Up Philip is out now.