Will LISTEN UP PHILIP Get Your Attention?October 16, 2014

Will LISTEN UP PHILIP Get Your Attention?


On Demand Weekly provides new movie reviews of hot movies on demand from the POV of watching from the comfort of your home. Today's review: LISTEN UP PHILIP (Tribeca).

Considering that writing is such a singular pursuit, it’s ironic that chasing the elusive muse has long been fodder for film fiction. From WONDER BOYS to BARTON FINK to MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, writers toiling over their works have populated film since the birth of the medium. The life of the scribe is examined once again in Alex Ross Perry’s LISTEN UP PHILIP.

Perry’s film focuses on one Philip Lewis Friedman, (Jason Schwartzman, THE DARJEELING LIMITED) a Brooklyn-based novelist living with his increasingly disengaged photographer girlfriend (Elisabeth Moss, THE ONE I LOVE).

Once something of an enfant terrible and now just a terrible adult, Philip is a narcissistic, self-obsessed writer methodically destroying every one of his relationships, whether romantic, platonic or professional. In need of both a place to work and and an escape valve, Philip accepts an invitation from once-great novelist Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END), to stay at Zimmerman’s country house for a spell.



Jonathan Pryce and Jason Schwartzman in Listen Up Philip distributed by Tribeca Film.

Once Perry places the two scribes within close proximity of one another, it becomes clear that literary talent isn’t the only thing they have in common. The bitterness and dissatisfaction that both Philip and Ike exude makes them kindred assholes, with each considered such by Ike’s angry daughter (Krysten Ritter, "Breaking Bad"). Her encounters with the two novelists are marked by a surly churlishness that Ritter conveys without alienating herself to the audience.



Krysten Ritter in Listen Up Philip distributed by Tribeca Film.

Schwartzman imbues Philip with a measure of vulnerability that keeps him from being totally irredeemable; he employs the same inflated sense of self that we saw from him in RUSHMORE, keeping the world at arm’s length as a defense mechanism. It’s a daring, if not altogether pleasant performance.


Price is an old pro whose arched eyebrows and Mephistophelean gaze make all the characters he plays interesting. He tempers Ike’s self-pity and hubris with an awareness that he “used to be a lion,” and, as Schwartzman does, leavens his character with a humanity that makes Ike complex and more than just a has-been hack.

Perry works with a lot of very tight close-ups, which highlight the self-involvement of the characters. His use of a novelistic voiceover, who narrates the story in a florid, overwritten, first-time-novelist style, is surprisingly effective. Though some filmmakers use the device as a crutch – among the most egregious: Todd Field in LITTLE CHILDREN – here the narration serves as an omniscient reminder of the world in which Philip and Ike travel and is meant to mimic the styles of their work.

Though hardly an enjoyable film, LISTEN UP PHILIP earns points for the work of its lead actors and the inside-baseball look at the cutthroat worlds of publishing and education. Recommended for fans of the stars and those who are up for something dour and challenging.






- Chris Claro



Chris Claro is a contributing writer for On Demand Weekly. He is a former Director of Promotion for Sundance Channel and now works as Lead Copywriter at Cablevision. He has written for dvdverdict.com and the Eyes and Ears section of huffingtonpost.com. He blogs at http://disconcertingglare.blogspot.com. Follow Chris on twitter @cgclaro.


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