Published Oct 23, 2014Listen Up Philip, the third feature from writer-director Alex Ross Perry, is a hilarious and biting work in the vein of other New York classics like Frances Ha or Manhattan. The film is a generous portrait of loveable misanthropists working in the arty socialite community, and it's a big step in the right direction for Perry. He delivers his strongest script to date and gets knockout performances from his ensemble cast, featuring Jason Schwartzman, Elizabeth Moss, Jonathan Pryce and Krysten Ritter.
Those performances elevate the material beyond simple homage to the works of Philip Roth and other New York literary intellectuals; the many fake book titles that adorn the characters' Brooklyn apartment shelves feature hilariously Rothian titles like Madness & Women and Necessity Never Rests, gently poking fun at the iconography of the American male cosmopolitan author. Perry nails the film's literary tone in a way unseen since the early films of Wes Anderson, delivering a bookish narrative in the best way possible.
Schwartzman plays Philip Friedman, a young novelist finally experiencing a taste of the critical success he's long sought with the upcoming release of his second book. Schwartzman, who has made a career of playing loveable assholes, is surprisingly even more toxic here, playing his most misanthropic role to date. The amount of distaste Philip has for the people around him rivals only Woody Allen in his less-than-appreciated effort Stardust Memories when it comes to being unlikeable, another director Perry lifts humorous cues from in this flighty narrative.
When Philip learns that his new book is going to receive a negative review in the New York Times, he goes into full self-destruct mode, cancelling his press tour and retreating to the upstate home of one of his idols, played by Jonathan Pryce in one of his best roles. Philip's sudden departure forces his long-suffering girlfriend, Ashley, played by Elizabeth Moss, to reconsider their relationship. This trio of characters provide the film with excellent characterization, and Perry's screenplay is a rich thematic work, one of the best screenplays of the year.
Listen Up Philip follows many mini-narratives, depending on what character Perry thinks is most interesting at the time, and carefully examines the role absence plays in their lives by looking at what happens when they leave the narrative, usually at a moment's notice. The film is beautifully structured in a way that feels dense yet feather-light, engaging with memory in complex ways while remaining hilarious.
The endlessly shifting perspective is complemented by hilarious, insightful and often melancholic narration in the script from Eric Bogosian, making the film's literary quality all the more pronounced. Special note has to be made of the film's gorgeous 16mm photography, shot by Sean Price Williams. With the release of Listen Up Philip, Perry has developed his filmmaking voice in a way that feels thrilling, delivering one of the best comedies of the year.