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USA 2014
Directed by
Alex Ross Perry
108 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

Listen Up Philip

Synopsis:  Philip Lewis Friedman (Jason Schwartzman) takes the opportunity of the success of his second novel to square away a few grudges he has against old friends. Having burnt his bridges the question is where to from here? Perhaps aging novelist Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce) has the answer.

It is surprising how quickly once-rad refusant writer director Alex Ross Perry has moved towards the mainstream.  He’s not quite there yet but on the basis of his trajectory to date his next film should see him firmly ensconced in the middle of the road albeit more as an obstacle to traffic keen to make its way home.

His 2009 debut, Impolex, with its meanderingly off-hand narrative involving a talking octopus took delight in taxing audience forbearance. His 2011 follow-up, The Color Wheel, an acerbically funny road-trip movie about a dysfunctional brother and sister, had a larger frame of reference and was free of wackily surreal interpellations but still it had a likeable (assuming that you like such things) thrift shop aesthetic. With Listen Up Philip the production values are smoother, it has known cast members (notably Schwartzman and Jonathan Pryce) and, most surprisingly, a narrative form that recalls Woody Allen.  Fortunately the film is not the tidily anodyne morality play that an Allen film has become but the chess-like manoeuvering of the characters in and out of their relationships to the intermittent voice-over of Eric Bogosian's patrician tones owes much to the master's house style. 

What differentiates Perry from Allen is the unrelieved misanthropy of the two main characters. Jonathon Pryce’s Ike recalls Larry David’s Boris from Allen’s 2009 film, Whatever Works but he has a certain wry humour about his dyspeptic world view which has been leavened by the years.  Philip, on the other-hand, is a narcissistic and chronically self-loathing individual who appears to be incapable of empathizing with another human being. And as the film is effectively a chronicle of his self-centred unpleasantness it manages to be a bit of a turn-off. 

Based on Perry’s previous two films one can surmise that there is quite a bit of him in the Philip character.  It is hence not surprising that Perry has failed to recognize that we may not find his alter ego as appealing as he (or Ike, as his surrogate father-self) does. Compounding the problem, none of the other characters, particularly the women, who all have second fiddle roles, offer us anything else with which to engage.

Whilst mercifully not being as glib as an Allen film, Listen Up Philip is also not as witty or economical and whilst often cynically amusing, a pruning might have helped lessen Perry's wearing tendency to indulge his disaffections.




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