Movie Review: ‘Listen Up Philip’ Grabs You By the Ears

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Cole Clay // Critic

our rating: ☆☆☆½

our rating: ☆☆☆½

LISTEN UP PHILIP, 108 min.
Director: Alex Ross Perry
Stars: Jason Schwartzman, Elisabeth Moss, Krysten Ritter, Joséphine de La Baume, Jess Weixler, Kate Lyn Sheil and Jonathan Pryce

If you have trouble connecting with the titular character from Alex Ross Perry’s LISTEN UP PHILIP, you are not alone. Ross isn’t necessarily interested in this pretense; he simply shows fragments of how abrasively exhausting Phillip’s company can be. This of course already sounds like the film is a slog to get through, but it’s far from that assessment.

Ross’ third film (IMOPLEX, THE COLOR WHEEL) is a study of ambition and how muddling it with pesky human connection can get in the way of that ostensible goal. By paying homage to the works of Woody Allen, Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach, LISTEN UP PHILIP also serves as a painfully funny indictment to the traditions they forged.

Jason Schwartzman plays Phillip Louis Friedman, a self-loathing, narcissistic novelist whose life is hinged upon his relationship to success and the upcoming release of his second novel, pretentiously named Obidant. Phillip leaves New York City in favor of a country house owned by his idol, famed novelist Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce), much to the chagrin of his girlfriend Ashley Kane (an always astounding Elizabeth Moss), a photographer whose success Phillip has always resented.

Elizabeth Moss and Jason Schwartzman star in LISTEN UP PHILIP. Photo courtesy of Tribeca Film.

Elizabeth Moss and Jason Schwartzman star in LISTEN UP PHILIP. Photo courtesy of Tribeca Film.

Ross punctuates the film with narration from an unbiased and seemingly apathetic voice of Eric Bogosian. LISTEN UP PHILIP branches off from Schwartzman and Moss to focus on peripheral characters, like Zimmerman’s quasi-estranged daughter Mel (another fabulous turn by Krysten Ritter), in a daring maneuver that Ross skillfully executes. This indicates that Ross knows you may need a break from Phillip, or that he wants to articulate the wreckage Phillip leaves in his wake.

It doesn’t matter if you like Phillip, Zimmerman or Ashley, they are all severely flawed characters who are only concerned with calibrating their own lives, but LISTEN UP PHILIP portrays them in a way that is more generous than what’s on the surface.

LISTEN UP PHILIP opens tomorrow in select theaters, and is available on iTunes and On Demand.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.