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June 6, 2015 by Liza Lou
After it’s premiere at the Sundance Festival in January 2014 I have been itching to see Listen Up Philip but decided to wait for it’s UK release so I could see it on the big screen. I’m glad I did.
I had heard of writer and director Alex Ross Perry from watching The Color Wheel which I happened to find mesmerising and very funny. I knew that with him with the reigns again I could look forward to some ‘stick out like a sore thumb’ characters and awkward comedy based on the grit of real life struggles, I wasn’t disappointed.
Listen Up Philip is the story of, would you believe it, Philip who is an author awaiting publication of his second novel. He is not a happy bunny and is totally bored with both life and his relationship with girlfriend Ashley. When offered peace and refuge (in the form of a summer house) by his idol Ike Zimmerman he takes it and uses it to focus on his favourite subject, himself.
Jason Schwartzman (The Grand Budapest Hotel) takes the title role and take it he does. He does narcissistic artiste with such a vacancy that confuses the viewer but not on a total negative. On the contrary what Schwartzman does is make Philip so unlikeable that his inner struggles are what become real and interesting. That pull is then taken right through the film with an insecurity of whether we are rooting for him or want him to fail. There’s a hell of a lot of wit too, that awkward wit I talked about earlier, and it is delightful. Schwartzman’s face shows blankness as he delivers funny in such a dry tone that sometimes it makes for uncomfortable viewing. You know what though? That’s the point and it’s brilliant.
Jonathan Pryce is equally funny as the ageing, prickly Zimmerman and when the two characters come together they mirror each other perfectly. Zimmerman is both fatherly and Philip’s future self and Pryce is able to both bounce off Schwartzman and stand his own. The scenes towards the final act of the film between the two of them are some of my favourites because they honestly stick in my throat and stay there. The coming together of two minds allows a strange kindred spirit air to manifest itself that becomes gloriously overbearing, it’s all very marmitey and I love it!
If Scwartzman brings blankness with abundance Elisabeth Moss (Girl,Interrupted) brings a whole load of emotion. She really is wonderful despite my worry early on that she would fade in amongst everything else going on around her. Instead, Moss plays raw but gutsy as her character deals with the aftermath of her relationship. Look out for an incredible close up that put a tear in my eye.
In essence then Listen Up Philip is quirky and coarse in characterisation but beautifully polished in everything else. For me flows fast and gives everything I expected. It made me laugh, made me cringe and very nearly made me cry.
Was it worth waiting a year for? Hell yeah it was!!