Listen Up Philip is a hilarious sendup of the pretentious capital-W Writer type. Jason Schwartzman plays Philip, a literary novelist awaiting the publication of his second book, and an utterly miserable human being.
In the opening scene, he meets up with an ex-girlfriend and, after she (rightly) calls him out on keeping the conversation all about him, declares that he will no longer give her a galley of his new book, even though he’d even written a personalized note on her copy. The next scene shows him accusing a college friend on giving up on his dream to be a writer too easily and tossing the writer’s pledge they’d written into his glass of beer. “It’s harder for some people,” his friend retorts, before exiting the bar and revealing his wheelchair. None of this fazes Philip’s air of superiority and he fishes out the crumpled, beer-soaked pledge.
Writer and director Alex Ross Perry plays it straight, imbuing the film with the mock gravitas fitting to a character of Philip’s ilk. Perry even includes a narrator, a portentous voice detailing characters’ inner thoughts. In a later scene with Philip’s girlfriend Ashley (Elizabeth Moss), upon Philip hearing good news about Ashley’s career, the narrator intones that it was hard for Philip, being reminded how proud he could feel for Ashley. Schwartzman then delivers Philip’s spoken response with such perfect dickishness that you wonder just how reliable the narrator really is.
Fortunately for Philip, he meets Ike (Jonathan Pryce), a Philip Roth-type writer he idolizes, and who is essentially an older, grizzled version of Philip. Ike’s latest novel is called “Audit,” he confesses having been unable to write another page since his move to New York, and he invites Philip to his country house, where the quiet will allow him to write. The quiet does indeed provide Philip with some inspiration, though as Ike’s daughter (Krysten Ritter) rightly points out, her father has simply provided a substitute to take over his moping duties.
Listen Up Philip is sharp, witty and brilliant. Parts of the middle dragged a bit for me, particularly Philip’s stint as a creative writing teacher, possibly because just as with pretentious, narcissistic bores at parties, there is only so much I can take of Philip at one time. Despite insight into Philip’s inner thoughts, there is little redemption to the character, and deliberately so. The ending was pitch perfect.
Listen Up Philip opens at TIFF Bell Lightbox today, October 24. Schedule and tickets here.
Thank you to TIFF for a screener of this film in exchange for an honest review.