It’s rare that a film’s central character has absolutely no redeemable qualities whatsoever, but Jason Schwartzman’s Philip soundly achieves this dubious accolade in Alex Ross Perry’s comedy drama, Listen Up Philip.
Philip is a writer of at least modest talent who finds himself flitting around the outskirts of the New York literary scene. He experienced some success with his debut novel, but as he nervously awaits the release of his second, it becomes evident that regardless of what the general public thinks, he sees himself as an underappreciated genius.
He is also an obnoxious misanthrope from the very off and in our early introduction to the character, we see him committing such social pleasantries as meeting up with an old friend just so he can chastise him and meeting with an ex in order to to bemoan her for never believing in him. He also repeatedly belittles his sweet natured girlfriend Ashley (Elisabeth Moss) before walking out on her to go and live in the country retreat of his newfound mentor Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce). Zimmerman is himself a rotten character, a renowned writer who has experienced great success in his past and who still buys into his own narcissistic hype. Between the pair of them, they wallow in their respective egomania, and gradually push everyone who loves them away in the process.
The key focus of Perry’s film is the fragile nature of writers told through the experiences of these two self-absorbed individuals. The three lead characters play their parts perfectly, and while Schwartzman’s deadpan malcontent and Pryce’s deluded blowhard hog most of the focus, it’s Moss’ Ashley who really shines. Maybe it’s because she is the only truly likeable character we are introduced to, but Ashley soon becomes the human heart of the story. A fair portion of the film is given over to her attempts to move on from Philip and rid herself of his poison for good. One particularly striking moment comes after a stormy meeting between the two in her flat. Alone once more, the camera lingers on Moss’ face and she gives us a whole range of emotions that perfectly encapsulate the anger, struggle and relief that can be found in cutting someone toxic out of your life.
There is plenty of humour to be found throughout Listen Up Philip but it is particularly dark and frequently of the cringe-inducing awkward variety. Often you find yourself not so much laughing at a clever line, but simply at the awfulness of behaviour on show.
The film’s ongoing narration is utilised skilfully as a means of constantly reframing events in order to put them in context of how they affect Philip. A process that taps into Philip’s own self belief that the world truly revolves around him. Tonally, the film feels like a less polished Wes Anderson movie only with all the twee taken out and extra mean-spirited scumbaggery added in instead. It’s a funny and oddly captivating movie that is buoyed by its central cast who each absolutely nail their characters, foibles and all. The ultimate message to take home seemingly being to just leave the jerks to it, you’re really better off without them.
LISTEN UP PHILIP / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: ALEX ROSS PERRY / STARRING: JASON SCHWARTZMAN, ELISABETH MOSS, JONATHAN PRYCE, KRYSTEN RITTER, JOSEPHINE DE LA BAUME / RELEASE DATE: JULY 27TH