Philip (Jason Schwartzman) is about to have his second novel published when he falls into a pit of despair and selfish arrogance. His girlfriend Ashley (Elisabeth Moss) becomes an after thought as he strives to escape from New York City and bond with one of his literary heroes.
Listen Up, Philip has plenty going for it, but the strong performances and lines of dialogue often get lost in this Wes Anderson-esque production about a misanthropic, selfish and self involved man whose depression seeps into the world around him.
Jason Schwartzman is great in the role of Philip, but he is never given a chance to make the character anything other than a selfish jerk whoses problems are everyone else’s but his. Elisabeth Moss doesn’t have a lot to do as Ashley; other than needle at Philip before she pushes him out of her life. Jonathan Pryce plays a character not unlike Philip, who plays mentor to the younger writer. Pryce approaches the role with relish, but fails to elevate the character above a selfish and verbose old man. Krysten Ritter has a small role as a brutally honest young woman and, as such, she has some of the best lines in the film.
In Philip, Alex Ross Perry has created a character that feels as though he is influenced by personal experience. Philip is a character that many of us have met through the years, but is too self involved and self-pitying for the audience to truly root for him. While Philip is a character who feels well fleshed out, he never truly goes through a personal journey in the film – although we are told through voice over that he has, and will do again in the future – instead, Philip feels like a character who is actively trying to avoid change, and who believes the world has done him an injustice. The screenplay jumps from character to character, giving the film a messy feel, and never truly allows the audience to engage with any of these misanthropes.
Alex Ross Perry, as director, feels though he is in thrall with the works of Wes Anderson, but by setting the film in a world that we recognise, Perry never allows the film to reach the absurdist heights of Anderson. This means that the booming voice over, and self-involved characters become irritating, and never attain the quirky charm of Anderson’s characters. Add to this the fact that this is a character study about a character that doesn’t change, and we have seen Schwartzman play this role before, and Listen Up, Philip goes from charming oddity to irritating stagnation.
In all, Listen Up, Philip has all the ingredients to be a great quirky comedy, but a few lines of strong dialogue and a powerful cast at a disadvantage are never enough to elevate the film. As wella s this, the only character that goes through a personal journey on screen is a supporting one, so even though this change is apparent, we are never given the pleasure of seeing her transformation, and are instead left following a character who seems determined to remain the same.