An odd mash-up of a movie, Listen Up Philip is a comedy from Alex Ross Perry that plays like Woody Allen meets Wes Anderson. If that concept floats your boat, then you’ll take great enjoyment from Listen Up Philip. If it doesn’t, then you might want to look elsewhere for your cinematic kicks.
Jason Schwartzman is Philip, an egotistical young novelist on the cusp of the publication of his second novel. He alienates his photographer girlfriend Ashley (Elizabeth Moss) when he befriends Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce), a successful author who takes Philip under his wing.
Set in a contemporary New York City that doesn’t exist, Listen Up Philip is a film that plays by its own rules. This is clearly rooted in a literary parallel universe where Woody Allen’s oeuvre exists, a cousin to the eccentric cartoonery of Wes Anderson’s off-kilter world. The grainy handheld camera work gives the film a loose freedom that picks up the dust and grit of the city streets that Philip inhabits.
The film’s narration (by Eric Bogosian) plays as if it was ripped from the pages of a J. D. Salinger short story, while the character of Pryce’s Zimmerman is clearly based on the legendary reclusive writer. It’s even left to the viewer to understand if the film’s narration is a way of moving the narrative forward or if it’s a device to show that this is one of Philip’s (or Zimmerman’s) written works. Perry doesn’t even try to explain this, letting his audience make up their mind – you’ll either have an opinion or you won’t.
Jason Schwartzman makes for a wonderfully obnoxious Philip. Schwartzman knows how to deliver sarcastic and biting dialogue – he may be unlikeable but he’s always watchable. He gives Philip many layers and you can almost see his character begging for understanding behind all his barbed comments. Jonathan Pryce is effective as the foolish Zimmerman, a man of supposed wisdom who actually has very little wisdom to dispense. He’s a buffoon that Philip holds up as a role model but Zimmerman’s relationship with his daughter (Krysten Ritter) is as dysfunctional as those Philip has with nearly every other character in the film.
Listen Up Philip is a quirky movie that will satisfy those of a certain disposition. You’ll never find it fascinating or frustrating but you can’t deny that this is a breath of fresh air in that time of year when CGI is exploding across multiplexes.