Listen Up Philip
Directed by Alex Ross Perry
Anger rages in Philip as he awaits the publication of his second novel. He feels pushed out of his adopted home city by the constant crowds and noise, a deteriorating relationship with his photographer girlfriend Ashley, and his own indifference to promoting the novel. When Philip's idol Ike Zimmerman offers his isolated summer home as a refuge, he finally gets the peace and quiet to focus on his favorite subject: himself.
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★★★★½ review by Eli Hayes on Letterboxd
I apologize for the recent briefness of my reviews, as things have been very hectic with the coming of the end of the semester and all, but I feel I have to drop at least a paragraph on Listen Up Philip to properly express how much I enjoyed this film. From it's unlikable yet slightly lovable characters to its playful critique of the literary world and its inhabitants, almost, almost reaching the heights of a highly effective and hysterical self-parody, yet I'm not entirely sure that's verbalizing it correctly. Either way, the laughs are there... but I wasn't expecting this film to deliver the goods on the dramatic side of things as well as it did, particularly some of the sequences involving Elisabeth Moss' character, Ashley. It's Jason Schwartzman though, who delivers his best, most nuanced and realized performance since the late 90s (Rushmore), embodying an anti-heroic spirit that mixes harsh truths with bittersweet hilarity. He'll end up on my year-end list of favorite performances, without a doubt. This was my first experience with the films of Alex Ross Perry, but it most certainly won't be the last, as I can't wait to check out The Color Wheel. I love this guy's writing... no, I just love this guy. I mean, look at his IMDb photograph, for christ's sake:
★★★★ review by matt lynch on Letterboxd
"Hang on while I put my head in this sweater."
★★★★ review by Alice Stoehr on Letterboxd
Midway through watching this, my girlfriend shuddered audibly. "Remember that John Waters line about how if someone throws up during one of his movies, it's like a standing ovation?" I said. "Well, this is a cringe comedy."
This is a deftly written movie, both on the micro level of lines and punchlines within hostile conversations, and in terms of macro plotting, with character arcs dovetailing or ricocheting across jagged chronologies. Philip's story is one of history repeating itself, as the title character's break-ups echo his own past break-ups as well as those of his mentor Ike, who's tutoring him in the art of being a little shit. Meanwhile, women like Ike's daughter Melanie and Philip's almost-ex-girlfriend Ashley try to break free from the orbits of these toxic men, despite emotional or material dependence. When Ashley succeeds, with relief and incredulity passing over actress Elisabeth Moss's face, it's incredibly cathartic.
Philip and Ike, however, are damned to self-imposed cycles of loneliness and hate. They're terrifying to watch, apart or together, between Jason Schwartzman's eyes, which radiate contempt from beneath his messy brown hair, and the too-plausible bitterness which informs Jonathan Pryce's every word. Both men speak confidently, though Schwartzman speaks faster, in an urgent patter, with an insistently literary diction. Each ends the movie alone, miserable, yet guaranteed lifelong literary success. It's a perverse twist on a moral tales like those of Faust or Dorian Gray, because these men get what they want. Neither craves nor receives redemption. Yet both will be fundamentally unhappy forever, an outcome I find karmically just and unshakably haunting.
Writer-director Alex Ross Perry uses every tool at his disposal to properly aim and deliver this misanthropic dagger to the heart. The film's framed by sardonically pseudo-objective narration read by Eric Bogosian; colored by Keegan DeWitt's melancholy jazz score; and seen through the oft-handheld 16mm photography of Sean Price Williams, which forces the viewer into a series of uncomfortable intimacies. The antagonistic techniques of Perry and his collaborators render Listen Up Philip a complacency-free zone, and though the film's a consistently shudder-inducing experience, it also imparts truths about artists, relationships, and lives led without empathy. Here's a rock sharply thrown at a bust of the Great Male Author; let's hope it leaves a dent.
★★★★½ review by I.V. on Letterboxd
Remember that thing I said about The Immigrant?
★★★★½ review by Willow Maclay on Letterboxd
Goddess bless this movie for skewering tortured white male intellectuals (specifically authors) so deeply that if Josh Radnor watched this movie he would never feel up to making another film of his own again.
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