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New Release Review - LISTEN UP PHILIP

A narcissistic young writer is befriended by a once prolific author.


Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Alex Ross Perry

Starring: Jason Schwartzman, Elisabeth Moss, Jonathan Pryce, Krysten Ritter, Josephine de La Baume, Dree Hemingway



"On the few occasions when Listen Up Philip falls silent, it's quietly sublime, but for a movie about writers, its words, of which there are many, fail to ring true."



As creative types go, the writer is the trickiest to portray onscreen. Unlike musicians and visual artists, there's no way to demonstrate the talent of a writer to the viewer without resorting to having their words read aloud in uncinematic fashion, and nobody wants to watch a movie in which the protagonist spends most of their waking hours huddled over a keyboard. The titular protagonist of Listen Up Philip is a writer, one of some talent we're told, but we never see him at work, nor hear his words. As such, we never quite buy into his appeal.
With his second book about to hit stores, Philip (Jason Schwartzman) decides to employ a scorched earth policy when it comes to his personal relationships, including breaking up with his girlfriend, photographer Ashley (Elizabeth Moss). He's quite happy to establish a new relationship however when once prolific author Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce) reaches out to him, allowing him to stay in his upstate New York home and setting him up with a faculty position at a nearby college.
As Philip, Schwartzman struggles to portray a narcissist, loathed by himself as much as he is adored by others. The performance, and the character as written by director Alex Ross Perry, is forced and mannered to the point of incredulity. Not being made privy to his writings means we never get a sense of why so many people are drawn to Philip, and some are even bizarrely attracted to him without even being aware of his work. The obnoxious protagonists of Sweet and Lowdown and Inside Llewyn Davis simply had to pick up their instruments to demonstrate their appeal, a luxury never afforded Philip. The film also contradicts itself by telling us nobody cares about authors today, yet women are willing to sleep with Philip simply because of his profession.
Thankfully, there's more to Listen Up Philip than its ill-conceived title character. We get to spend time with Ashley and Ike, and his long suffering daughter (Kristen Ritter), and it's these characters and the actors playing them who rescue the movie. Moss has been enjoying something of a career renaissance lately, and her performance here confirms her as one of the most interesting American actors working right now. It's a talky movie, but the standout moment is a simple prolonged closeup of Moss's face as she processes a decision she just made. On the few occasions when Listen Up Philip falls silent, it's quietly sublime, but for a movie about writers, its words, of which there are many, fail to ring true.



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