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


Cole Clay // Critic

our rating: ☆☆☆½

our rating: ☆☆☆½

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

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.