“Listen Up Philip”, a short review

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Jason Schwartzman plays Philip Lewis Friedman, a self-absorbed asshole who is enjoying a mild success with the publication of his second novel. Philip’s ego and eccentricity is progressively causing the disintegration of his relationship with his friends and his girlfriend Ashley (played by Elizabeth Moss). He is given the opportunity to meet his idol Ike Zimmerman (played by Jonathan Pryce), an older, successful, meaner writer who embodies everything that Philip aspires to be. In this friendship, Phillip embarks into a conflicting road of social self-destruction and emotional self-exile.

The film is the third feature of young NYU graduate Alex Ross Perry. His film “The Color Wheel” found no distribution but left an impression among critics. NY times’ A.O Scott called it “sly, daring, genuinely original and at times perversely brilliant.” but has also said in the same review that it is “full of obnoxious characters in scenes that seem overwritten and under-rehearsed, oblivious to the most basic standards of tonal consistency, narrative coherence or visual decorum.” “Listen Up Philip” is Perry’s first film with distribution. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last January and has been released in selective theaters last Friday after leaving quite a good impression at the New York Film Festival.

Like “The Color Wheel”, “Listen Up Philip” is shot by cinematographer Sean Price Williams on Super 16mm. It is shot in a very well-designed documentary-style cinematography that made me think immediately of Woody Allen’s “Husbands and Wives” or John Cassavetes’ “Shadows”. But what looks spontaneous and impulsive is actually deliberate and meticulously scripted. Perry fills the screen with wonderful extreme close-ups and dances the camera around in a chaotic but very calculated camera zooms, swings and tilts.

The dialogue is clever, sharp and heavily scripted. Perry leaves no room for improvisation, the screenplay is formed of novelistic monologues, witty insults and hurtful remarks. Most of these remarks are said by Schwartzman in his most rigorous and mature performance yet. Eric Bogosian narrates the film adding to the literary flavor of the film. (“narration NOT voice-over” Perry points out.). In the same way we switch to another chapter in a book, the story switches from one character to another. We follow Philip in the beginning of the film but then we shift to another character’s point of view creating a more layered and more elaborate perspective of the story.

“Listen Up Philip” belongs to a long tradition of New York independent movies. Along with Noah Baumbach, Woody Allen, Whit Stillman and many others, Alex Ross Perry fits like a glove. “It’s my New York movie” Perry explains during a Q&A at the BAMcinématek “I wanted to make a New York movie”.

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