Sunday, 16 August 2015

Listen Up Philip

Directed and written by Alex Ross Perry and out now on DVD & Blu-Ray, Listen Up Philip is interesting in that it is one of very few contemporary films to be released under Eureka Entertainment’s Masters of Cinema series. Being the label that has brought us the remasters of Metropolis, Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari and many other classics, it’s unusual they would choose this as their 119th release in the series. Why? Well, for starters, Alex Ross Perry is not a ‘Master of Cinema’. Not yet, at least. And even if he was, Listen Up Philip has no right to stand beside classics like Touch of Evil and Double Indemnity in the Masters of Cinema series. Why? Because it’s just not that good.


Jason Schwartzman stars as Philip Lewis Friedman, an arrogant and obnoxious author awaiting the publication of his second novel. As the hustle and bustle of New York City, the deteriorating relationship with his girlfriend Ashley (Elisabeth Moss) and his lack of interest in promoting his upcoming book take over, he escapes to the country with his literary hero Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce) to focus on himself. It’s a very simple dialogue-driven piece with nothing in way of action or thrills. This is in no way a bad thing when done right, but Listen Up Philip is often painfully slow in its delivery.


Schwartzman, independent cinema icon and Wes Anderson regular, shines in the role of Philip – but not necessarily in a good way. The role seems to come naturally to him, with little acting involved – which is a shame, because Philip is one of the most unlikeable characters I’ve seen in a long time. It’s a well observed portrayal of literary pretension, granted. But who wants to spend two hours with this guy? If you knew him in real life, you would push him away quicker than he pushed you – because he’s that much of a pompous little shit. “That is the sign of a good actor”, I hear you cry. Well, I see where you’re coming from. Michael Fassbender was absolutely phenomenal in 12 Years A Slave, despite playing one of the most vile characters in cinema history. But Schwartzman seems to be playing himself here and, while Fassbender was clearly set up as a nasty bugger in 12 Years A Slave, the character of Philip here is (for lack of a better word) the film’s hero. The film is built around him, and the obnoxious style of the score and narration seem to be and extension of him. It’s hard to tell if we’re supposed to like him or not. The supporting cast are great, however – the legendary Jonathan Pryce (recent Game of Thrones cast member) is brilliant but, like Schwartzman, is playing an obnoxious shit who is very difficult to like. Really the film belongs to the women – Elisabeth Moss, Krysten Ritter and Joséphine de La Baume are all fantastic as the ladies in Philip’s life. 

The film’s production screams out “I’m a quirky understated independent film!”, but nobody’s listening. All the traits of independent film that come naturally to so many other filmmakers just feel forced here. But the main issue here is that Listen Up Philip feels like it is trying very hard to be a sharp satire about the pretentious side of the literary world but, instead of pointing a finger at these people and laughing at them, the film is trying to make us stand by their side and laugh with them. But unless you’re a twat like Philip, there’s very few laughs to share with him. Instead of making us laugh with these characters, the film just makes us angry at them.


In conclusion, Listen Up Philip is a difficult film to watch. It’s an often tiringly slow 100 minutes with an obnoxious character, delivered in an obnoxious way. One of my fellow CeX writers Denis Murphy recently wrote that The Voices, starring Ryan Reynolds, was up its own arse. If you thought that was bad, stay away from Listen Up Philip.

Listen Up Philip is a painfully pretentious little film that doesn’t seem to have any reason to exist. 2/5.

★★☆☆☆

Sam Love


Listen Up Philip at CeX


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