Alex Ross Perry’s Listen Up Philip is decently crafted by biting dialogue and watchable performances. However, I’m unsure what audiences are supposed to “get” out of the film.
Perry certainly pulls us in with an atmosphere reminiscent of films made during the 70’s. He has the correct details lined within his style, as well as the rebellious glimmers in his filmmaking. However, once we’re invested and get on board with the film’s pithy tone, we have fun for a bit but that interest slowly dissipates and focuses on tinier elements in the background. They story is no longer worth listening to, but we notice the nice costuming.
You either despise someone like Philip Lewis Friedman, or find him entertaining in a schadenfreuden sort of way. He’s an eccentric fellow who finds exhilaration in being cruel. Jason Schwartzman admirably plays Friedman as an unlikable stooge with a purposeful lack of empathy. Partly because he knows his character is trying to be fascinating in order to gain respect from his idol, author Ike Zimmerman (played by Jonathan Pryce).
Little does Friedman know, Zimmerman is far from perfect. He prefers to be by himself, but he’s conflicted as he sees an opportunity in his relationship to Philip to leave inspiration. Philip is also unaware of his girlfriend’s emotions and sensitivity. Ashley (played by Elisabeth Moss) cowers when Philip is chastising her or acting pessimistic. When Philip leaves for an extended period of time, Ashley goes on her own personal journey to find her voice after being belittled by her snobby beau.
Listen Up Philip is the type of movie Noah Baumbach would’ve made. It would’ve been a neat follow-up to Frances Ha. It’s a film that obtains all those negativities the filmmaker adores while also sustaining a sarcastic sense of humour. Baumbach hasn’t always hit home runs, but this material is at least in his wheelhouse.
But, Listen Up Philip doesn’t feel like it can stand on its own feet without clinging to the works of Baumbach or even Wes Anderson. Aside from Schwartzman entertainingly playing a grown up version of Rushmore’s Max Fischer, the film has the bleak attitude of Baumbach and the storytelling of an Anderson joint. Perry, unfortunately, doesn’t leave an original stamp of his own.
A major pet peeve of mine the film kept digging up was the improper use of a narrator. Perry utilizes the unseen baritone to fill all sorts of cracks in the story instead of letting his self-written script or his actors do some of the heavy lifting. Isn’t that cheating? The film also lets the tired stereotype of the “wounded writer” freely fly around and abide by all those played-out tropes we’ve seen before.
Sometimes, a movie will have audiences appreciating it and vying to keep on holding on to every last frame. But, when the film starts to spin its wheels for a very long time, movie goers lose their patience easily. That’s exactly what happens in Listen Up Philip but, hey, at least those tweed jackets are nifty.