Thursday, November 6, 2014

[Review] Listen Up Philip

Indie film has often subverted the notion that you need a likable lead character. But the majority of the time, even the most flawed leads still have some significant redeeming qualities and they usually take a path of transformation. In Alex Ross Perry's Listen Up Philip, the character gets even worse as the film progresses, and you more-so feel bad for all the people around him. Jason Schwartzman is at the neurotic center of this intriguing and well-scripted dramedy of a darker shade.

Philip Friedman (Schwartzman) is an insufferable but talented young author living in New York. In the film's very first scene, we get a good (or bad) impression of him. He harshly laments someone for being late, reveals how selfish and entitled he is, brags about himself, and reigns down condescension. And that's just within 30 seconds. He comes home in bad moods to his current girlfriend Ashley (Elisabeth Moss), whom he frequently cheats on. Eventually, he's invited by one of his idols, an older author (played by Jonathan Pryce) for a mentorship. The story revolves around this thread, Philip's relationships, and his own internal anxieties.

Even though we can't stand the guy, he keeps our attention, particularly because Jason Schwartzman plays the character so well, and it's interesting to observe how the other more tolerable characters awkwardly interact with Philip. Sometimes you squirm with uncomfortable enjoyment watching the situations from scene-to-scene, simply because you're glad you're not in the other characters' shoes.

All narrative items considered, along with the aesthetics of the 1970s lens, grainy film, retro title font, apathetic horns and sparse piano keys, it's impossible not to recall Woody Allen's early work. The omniscient narrator (smooth-talking Eric Bogosian) enhances the story by its literary qualities and deeper insights. The film does drag a bit in the midsection and begins to wear over the course of the 110-minute runtime. The problem isn't the runtime itself, but it's the "blah" that fills the blank space. It drifts into some mundane scenes and loses the strength of its early beginnings.

But overall, Listen Up Philip raises a thought-provoking conundrum about the relationship between egotism, asshole-ism, and artistic success. It breathes some truth into the idea that you might not want to meet your favorite author. 


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