London Film Festival: Listen Up Philip

Directed by Alex Ross Perry
Starring Jason Schwartzman, Elisabeth Moss and Jonathan Pryce
In UK Cinemas June 5th, 2015

by Joanna Orland

Listen Up Philip will surely be a hit with the critics, but its pretentiousness may prevent it from finding the mainstream audience it deserves.  With very Rothian (Philip Roth) overtones, the story follows Philip (Schwartzman) as a young writer about to breakthrough with his second novel.  He catches the attention of the acclaimed and elderly author Ike Zimmerman (Pryce) who becomes his mentor of sorts.  His relationship with girlfriend Ashley (Moss) is falling apart, much as his previous relationships have.  Philip always comes first.

Jason Schwartzman is typecast but perfectly so in Listen Up Philip – arrogant and self-indulgent in all of the right ways.  Philip is a man who doesn’t compromise whether it be for what’s good for his career or his relationships.  He is barely likable as a protagonist but Schwartzman’s portrayal is practically perfection as he plays Philip with a subtle sense of irony, immediately winning over the audience onto Philip’s conceited, irrational and selfish side.

Elisabeth Moss is also perfectly cast as Ashley, and helps the audience get an insight into how anyone could care for such a selfish man.  Moss’ screen time and feelings towards Philip help the audience to empathize not only with her character, but with Philip as well as her mere presence softens his harsh persona.

While Philip’s story is the main focus of this film, the narrative is divided into three strands, one to follow each of the main characters – Philip, Ashley and Ike.  Philip and Ashley are by far the most engaging narratives, but Ike’s is a necessary story arc to piece it all together and help Philip onto his path.  The stories and character backstories are all glued together wonderfully by the narration of Eric Bogosian who gives the audience further insight into the characters with an almost irreverent tone that complements their personalities.  Bogosian’s narration also fits seamlessly with the tone of this film, enhancing its character and humour to make it one of the most enjoyable indie films of the year.

While Listen Up Philip may deter audiences looking for likeable protagonists, it will satiate the appetite of Philip Roth fans and sardonic indie film lovers worldwide.

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