Listen Up Philip, 2015.
Directed by Alex Ross Perry
Starring Jason Schwartzman, Elisabeth Moss, Krysten Ritter and Jonathan Pryce.
A writer awaits his second book to be published, cycling through bouts of melancholy and bitterness towards those close to him.
God dammit…what the hell did I watch him in recently? Like, the last week or so…Walking Dead? Mad Max: Fury Road? Daredevil…was he in Daredevil?
So went my internal dialogue for the first 20 minutes of Listen Up Philip…which says a lot about the first 20 minutes of Listen Up Philip. The film takes a while to get going.
Not just in story and overall vision, but in technical skill. There are moments during the first reel where you think, how low budget is this low budget movie? The background is more in focus than the actors. Interiors vary from overly dark to overexposed windows. Thankfully, there’s a solid character at its core – the titular Philip Lewis Friedman.
Jason Schwartzman is at his most Schmuckman, inviting ex-girlfriends and former friends for coffee just to boast. His second book is about to be published, a feat Philip aggressively shares with anyone who has once wronged him. Problem is, as fun as satisying in the short-term that can be, it isn’t making him happy.
In the spririt of a Wes Anderson movie hero, Philip is neurotic to the extreme, constantly insulting those close to him in complete deadpan. Being nasty to people is incredibly funny. The major difference is how mean Philip goes, far outstripping the cartoon characters of Tenenbaums and Rushmore.
After those 20 minutes pass, carried mostly by Schwartman, the movie finds its vintage brogue-clad feet. Philip meets the man who will become his writing mentor – Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce) – a once-great author faded into obscurity. Also, what the **** did I watch him in last week?!
Their relationship is wonderfully curmudgeonly, the pair delightfully mocking the ‘insufferable sycophants’ that surround them (who actually seem like perfectly decent people). They’re kindred spirits a few decades apart, or, more forebodingly, Philip seeing his Ghost of Reclusive Author Future.
Then, just when you think you’ve got the film figured out, it perfectly executes a structural uppercut: switching perspective entirely to Philip’s long-suffering girlfriend Ashley (Elisabeth Moss). A whole new side of the story is revealed. The tone of the film is shaken up just as it begins to settle. The transition occurs again later on to Ike, creating three separate, yet interconnected, chapters.
It’s a masterstroke only visible once the great parody credits roll. Suddenly, those first 20 minutes don’t seem that bad. They were putting in a lot more work that you would’ve thought. The chapters pass impreceptibly through seasons, the plot progressing through Spring, Summer, Autumn. Narration (another Andersonian device) peppers the bookends of each, emphasising the literary feel. The film is a book about books.
Anderson isn’t Alex Ross Perry’s only influence. The film’s references are just as rich (and more authentic) as Wes’. 70s Woody Allen oozes from the scenes in New York and the hazy close-ups of John Cassavetes litter those upstate. Ike’s impromptu party scene could be lifted directly from Faces.
But where it most differs from Anderson’s work is in how far cynacism is explored. Anderson would provide a poignant sense of closure. Perry, if anything, gets meaner. Some characters learn, others don’t. A few move on from their mistakes, the rest retread them over and over again. And that’s refreshingl–THE HIGH SPARROW! HE’S THE HIGH SPARROW FROM GAME OF THRONES. HOW DID I NOT REALISE THAT SOONER?!
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★