It didn’t take long for me to realize I had to look past the idea that Listen Up Philip would be a film centered on the title character (Jason Schwartzman) truly isolated at a cabin in upstate New York as he awaited publication of his second novel and did not interact with anyone else for most of the story.
I also had to look beyond Schwartzman’s impeccable ability to grow a beard and focus on the fact that, while the story does build to Philip knowing it’s best he stay alone, he doesn’t distance himself from other characters while getting to that point.
The plot of the film, written and directed by Alex Ross Perry, starts as Philip wants to focus on himself and he is invited to stay at the cabin of his literary hero Ike (Jonathan Pryce). However, what Philip really seems to do is embark on a character exploration that must include those close to him as a way to validate his self obsession — especially in scenes where he is convinced his girlfriend will take him back.
The story is told visually, often with jittery camera work focusing in on a character’s face, actions, or both, and in a literary tone as narrator (Eric Bogosian) describes inner monologues of the characters as they go about interacting with each other.
The narration brought the film to the level of Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums came to mind) and the neurotic points of the plot reflected an homage to Woody Allen.
It was an interesting style choice, especially to show how well-written the film is, but I thought it would be more effective for Philip to be truly alone for awhile before he went on a self discovery mission connecting with past ex-girlfriends and ultimately shutting out anyone close to him.
Philip’s presentation as a loner was almost too blatant and there wasn’t anything left to interpret or guess as far as his true goal in life or even the reasons he had that goal.
Schwartzman played Philip well, despite the shortcomings in the development of his character, and I found his scenes with Ashley (Elisabeth Moss) during the course of their relationship to be the most telling of who he is besides a writer who wants to be alone.
Overall. Listen Up Philip is a strong visual presentation about a writer’s life and quest to be alone, the path to get there was just a little disjointed for me.
“There’s many reasons we are what we’ve become. I’m going through changes, ripping out pages. I’m going through changes now.”
Langhorne Slim & The Law – Changes