Listen Up Philip is so good and willing to be disliked that I
have to ask: Writer and director Alex Ross Perry, where have you been all my
life? Finally, there’s a movie that has the courage to let an asshole character
remain an asshole from beginning to end. In fact, there’s a second asshole
character who remains an asshole in the end. MY GOD, IT’S A CORNUCOPIA OF
For those of us who were sorely disappointed that St. Vincent
is marked by a sentimentality that takes an intriguing premise—asshole neighbor
babysits a kid—and turns it into jelly, please see Listen Up Philip.
There’s nothing resembling studio appeasement happening or chickenshit
Granted, outright assholery is not for everyone (I wonder how many
times I can use the word “asshole” in the review?), and those who don’t like
prickly characters, even if they’re used for comic effect, should stay away. On
its face, Listen Up Philip should be completely unlikeable, but there’s
a mastery to its storytelling, Perry’s use of language, and all the
performances are perfect. Who knew a Coppola (Jason Schwartzman) had it in him
to be simultaneously repulsive and totally mesmerizing?
Philip Lewis Friedman (Schwartzman) is on the verge of having his
new novel published, and aside from The
New York Times, advance word is good. One afternoon while waiting for an
ex-girlfriend to meet him for lunch, her tardiness inspires him to launch into a
tirade against her that makes him feel better than he’s felt in years.
Egged on by his self-satisfaction, Philip meets his old roommate,
and similarly rips him a new asshole. Philip—who has clearly always been
something of a jerk—decides, though not explicitly, to keep speaking completely
openly and honestly.
Philip’s second book wins him a fan in Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan
Pryce, absolutely wonderful), a transparently Philip Roth-esque writer (and
total douche bag, a sort of older version of Philip), and the two men form a
quick friendship. Ike asks Philip to spend time at his country house, and
The country trip leaves Philip’s girlfriend Ashley (Elisabeth Moss)
hanging, and sends their relationship down a long path from which it doesn’t
recover. But at least this movie full of asshole men gives Ashley her own
story, apart from Philip, and makes clear he’s the real loser in this
situation. Plus, Moss pulls off one of those rare actorly feats; she lets an
entire series of emotions run across her face without saying a word. Her
performance here may be her best yet.
Kudos to Perry for letting Listen Up Philip run with its two
irredeemable jerks—Ike has a fraught relationship with his daughter Melanie
(Krysten Ritter, showing some chops) that proves he’s a terrible father, while
Philip starts teaching at an upstate college and alienates everyone—and for
letting the movie be darkly funny. These two writers are narcissistic, shallow,
self-loathing, out-of-touch dicks, but there’s enough humor to not make you
want to murder anyone on screen. It’s quite an accomplishment, and maybe one of
the best movies of the year.
LISTEN UP PHILIP
Directed by Alex Ross Perry
With Schwartzman, Pryce and Moss
Santa Fe Reporter