Listen Up Philip

Art & Culture

Listen Up Philip is a huge reminder of those people we have all had the unfortunate experience of knowing. Have you ever made an acquaintance with that someone who was not very likable. Not only by you but also by your other friends too. A very negative, self-indulgent mean-spirited person with a sardonic outlook on life that only complains and even worse about themselves. Yet somehow you remain friends with them, due to some strange unexplainable charm they possess. If so, then prepare to spend more time with them in Alex Ross Perry’s Listen Up Philip.


Philip Lewis Friedman (Jason Schwartzman) is a novelist that lives with his very supportive girlfriend Ashley Kane (Elizabeth Moss) but becomes more short-tempered and frustrated as he awaits publication on his much delayed second novel. He decides to abruptly leave for an extended amount of time and live with his idol Ike Zimmerman (Johnathan Pryce) at his summer house in order to make some life changing decisions, write and find peace within himself.


Sometimes the most bitter unpleasant characters can be a treat to watch such as Biff Tanen in Back to the Future or Momma in Throw Momma from the Train. The audience hardly get to see many in all their glory because most studios believe people want to see heroes and victorious characters. This is what makes Listen Up Philip so successful in its risk taking approach. No matter how moody or dark the film gets one must remember that it is all for the sake of art and is therefore justified.


The film marks one of the many times Schwartzman has played a writer with an acid tongue which may be due to his cutthroat, sarcastic yet observational wit, very similar to the persona of Bill Murray. Philip is a relentlessly unpleasant character. He constantly distances himself from those that care about him, and is very aware and even proud of it. Thankfully Schwartzman is a master of portraying these unlikable traits while making it enjoyable rather than offensive. One marvels at his spiteful ways covering their face watching through their partly spaced fingers at each awkward moment but remain impressed by the sheer audacity of Mr. Friedman to hurl such hateful things. Philip Lewis Friedman is a social vampire, a person that sucks the blood (life) out of everyone in order to fulfil his art.


He’s not the only one to have such a narcissistic outlook on life as Pryce’s Ike Zimmerman is just as self-centered. Pryce seems to be having fun with his egotistical role also as he plays an older, wiser yet more stubborn version of what Philip will become later in his career. The two do not necessarily agree on everything. However, they never seem to disagree on anything either as they both always come to same conclusion, only listen to one’s self because that’s the person who matters the most.


Everything is beautifully gritty in director Alex Ross Perry’s New York, using closed spaces and claustrophobic close-ups to heighten the emotional state of mind of Philip and Ike’s victims. Perry’s literary approach of splitting the film into chapters of Philip’s life is effective and accompanied by a very necessary narrator courtesy of actor and novelist Eric Bogosian. The film tends to shift the entire focus on different characters at certain points of Philip’s life such as when he breaks up with Ashley we see how this effects her and how she copes with Philips abrupt decision. During this period we do not see Philip for an extended amount time. He is left alone, as if his ego is so big less screen time is given to Philip as an aesthetic attempt to humble the conceited character. Listen Up Phillip is an enduring cinematic poem dedicated to those that gave up their lives to art due to fierce narcissism.


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