Starring: Jason Schwartzman, Elisabeth Moss, Jonathan Pryce
Genre: Drama/ Comedy
As his long awaited second novel is about to be published, young author Philip (Schwartzman) grows tired of and angry at both life in New York and those around him, including his long-suffering photographer girlfriend Ashley (Moss). After sparking a friendship with his idol and celebrated veteran author Ike Zimmerman (Pryce), Philip decides to not do any promotion for his new book and stay with Ike at his countryside retreat where he can finally be at peace. While Ashley starts to make a new life for herself Philip just finds new ways and means to be angry and unhappy.
Films featuring ‘creative types’ can certainly be divisive from the off, as many will find it hard to care about characters that they would quite simply never, ever want to be in the company of. I am sure many would severely dislike Listen Up Philip, mainly because it does feature a very unlikeable protagonist, and writer/ director Alex Ross Perry admirably never seems to want to compromise in making Listen Up Phillip appeal to a mainstream audience.
Films that focus on the aspects of the human condition and our own personalities that are our flaws and many of our unlikeable characteristics may provide uncomfortable viewing at times as they make us confront the unlikeable aspects of our own personalities, but they can provide fascinating and almost cathartic viewing if done well.
Well, for those of us that want a film to a dig a little deeper and confront us with our flaws, Alex Perry Ross follows in the footsteps of Woody Allen and, more recently, Noah Baumbach to do this. He provides us with a film that is as a scathing examination of the human condition that delivers frustrating viewing at times, but only in the most effective way as it enables us to apply this frustration to ourselves and the way we lead our own lives. The characters presented within the narrative are very relatable, but we may well be reluctant to admit it to even ourselves in private. This is what makes, in my opinion Listen Up Phillip such a deeply engaging and memorable film; we can see something of ourselves in every one of these deeply flawed characters, and though may not want to admit it, we cannot forget it.
Though the name Phillip may be in the film’s title, Listen Up Phillip is a film that gives everyone of its characters a chance to justify themselves, and there is equal focus on both Phillip and Ashley. Philip is without doubt incredibly self-centred, but there is something in what he says that resonates with us all, even if we would only admit to it in private. When Philip moves away from New York and Ashley the film focusses on her for a while and she does find a deserved contentment in her life, while Philip seems to be forever miserable. His problems and unhappiness are to do with who he is, while hers are pretty much to do with him. It this scathing and brutally honest depiction of human relationships that makes Listen Up Phillip such refreshing viewing,
Through Philips’s narrative journey, Listen Up Phillip does offer a profound and unflinching depiction of the human condition in that some people will never be truly happy, and they have a tendency to make those around them unhappy too. The narrative proves this as though Ashley is naturally very upset when Phillip Moves away, as soon as he is gone she finds happiness and contentment in her life on her own as she can once again be herself.
This may be described as a rather cynical ideology, but it is scathingly accurate, and it will in my opinion resonate with the real life experiences with all who watch Listen Up Phillip. As we spend time with Phillip, and then Ike and all of those in Ike’s life, the film confronts us with questions we are often reluctant to ask ourselves about our own lives and what happiness and contentment truly are. Expositional voice-over can often be a lazy method of storytelling when used in films, but Alex Ross Perry uses it with the utmost effectiveness to enter deep into the mind-set of the film’s characters and take us to place within our own mind set.
What also enhances the film’s engagement are the performances; the always charismatic Jason Schwartzman is exceptional as Phillip. It is when playing these kind of seemingly unlikeable characters that he excels, and he delivers every venomous line of the film’s script with utter believable conviction. Phillip undoubtedly means every nasty and bitter word he says, but yet we cannot help but relate to him at times.
Elizabeth Moss is also excellent as Ashley; giving a performance of raw emotional depth to make Ashely a character to truly care about.
As the narrative develops and digs deeper into the mind-set of its deeply flawed characters, it confronts the viewer with some personal and deeply cynical unflinching questions about ourselves. There are no answers provided, but the questions resonate in the mind and subconscious for a long time after the film has finished, and for me that is the ultimate mark of a talented and deeply observant filmmaker. Most of us are not published novelists like Phillip, but thanks to the excellent script, his characteristics, behaviours and thoughts are more relatable than any of us would have at first thought was possible and would ever want to publicly admit. Listen Up Phillip is deeply intelligent and observant filmmaking of the highest order and is without doubt one of the underrated gems of the year.
A raw, unflinching and deeply intelligent observation on the human condition and its many, many flaws; Listen Up Phillip may on the surface seem like a pretentious film about pretentious people, but when watched asks us some very personal, unnerving and unforgettable questions about ourselves.