Daily | Sundance 2014 | Alex Ross Perry’s LISTEN UP PHILIP

Listen Up Philip

‘Listen Up Philip’

“The acerbically funny Listen Up Philip counts as a great leap forward for Alex Ross Perry after his generously received second feature, The Color Wheel,” writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. “Narrated by an anonymous man off screen (Eric Bogosian), a kind of authorial presence who bores into the characters’ thoughts and feelings, Mr. Perry’s latest is at once a riff on a Philip Roth novel and a sly gloss on some of the criticisms of the same. Its dyspeptic lead character, Philip Lewis Friedman (a very good Jason Schwartzman), is a 30-something New York writer who’s being rapidly devoured by his narcissism. On the eve of the publication of his second novel, he effects a scorched-earth policy—sometimes appallingly funny, sometimes just dreadful—toward almost everyone in his life…. Although the typeface used for the movie’s title self-consciously mimics the exaggerated one used for the original cover of Portnoy’s Complaint (among others), Mr. Perry’s story takes some of its cues from the fictional relationship between Mr. Roth’s famous alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman, and E. I. Lonoff, a literary recluse first featured in Mr. Roth’s The Ghost Writer who has been long-viewed as a stand-in for Bernard Malamud.”

“Philip lives with his long-term girlfriend, Ashley, played by Elisabeth Moss in what may be the performance of her career to date, Peggy Olson notwithstanding,” writes Criticwire‘s Sam Adams. At one point, “as Philip reaches the heights of its protagonist’s misanthropy, Perry does something quite unexpected: He cuts away, for quite a while, to Ashley, a trick he repeats later with other characters, a structure supported by the film’s novelistic framing. Even when we’re riding shotgun with Philip, we’re not encouraged to see the world the way he does, or even, necessarily, to empathize with him.”

Listen Up Philip is decidedly less weird, and more accessible, than The Color Wheel,” finds the AV Club‘s A.A. Dowd. Still, it “out-Baumbachs Noah Baumbach in its portrait of toxic narcissism.” And “Schwartzman, in one of his best performances since Rushmore, turns the character’s complete self-absorption into wickedly funny shtick. Was the part written for him or was he just the perfect choice to occupy it?” Grade: B+.

This is “a quantum leap forward from [Perry’s] last feature,” finds Rodrigo Perez at the Playlist, “and it’s thanks in large part to great actors making the excellent script really sing.” As Philip’s mentor, novelist Ike Zimmerman, Jonathan Pryce delivers “what might be a career-best performance.” And with Krysten Ritter, Joséphine de La Baume, Dree Hemingway, Jess Weixler and Kate Lyn Sheil, “Philip has a first-rate, up-and-coming indie supporting cast.” Grade: A-.

“Cinematographer Sean Price Williams’s hand held camera does justice to both the characters and the stylized interiors they inhabit, whether swirling gracefully around rooms or staying tight on faces,” writes Emma Myers for Indiewire. “Although the film drags a bit in its second half, it nevertheless manages to articulate ephemeral notions of success, perception, and longing.” Grade: A-.

“If Perry’s savagely funny The Color Wheel was his Portnoy’s Complaint, then Listen Up Philip is his Letting Go,” writes Jordan Hoffman at “If you aren’t adequately versed in the poet laureate of Weequahic, what that means is Listen Up Philip is big, sprawling and tortured, if a little lacking in focus—while funny in parts, it isn’t really a comedy.” Grade: 8.9/10.

“I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this odd 16mm odyssey,” writes Ben Umstead at Twitch. Interviews with Perry: Filmmaker and Indiewire. Ioncinema‘s Sundance “Trading Cards”: Perry and producers Katie Stern (more from Danielle Lurie at Filmmaker) and James M. Johnston. BlackBook‘s Hillary Weston talks with composer Keegan DeWitt.

Viewing. The Hollywood Reporter talks with Perry and his cast (3’33”). And James Joiner meets Schwartzman for Esquire (5’02”).

Updates, 2/1: “The Rothiness of the movie is actually fairly low,” finds the New Yorker‘s Richard Brody. “But the elaborate mode of storytelling in Listen Up Philip seems like an attempt to make a movie that plays at the speed of thought—that skitters from moment to moment with the density of detail and intensity of rhetorical inflection that mark Roth’s novels. It’s an attempt to borrow Rothian themes for a cinematic exercise that has nothing academic or theoretical about it, even as it suggests a third-order (or even fourth-order) relationship to the characters and the story that is itself a meta-Rothian game.”

“Schwartzman makes his character’s profoundly negative personality more than convincing, to the point where it’s often pretty hard to take,” finds Todd McCarthy in the Hollywood Reporter. “In contrast, Pryce’s Zimmerman is so far down the tracks in the same direction that he’s madly entertaining in his negativism—call him Zimmerman unbound. This may be the veteran Welsh actor’s most incisive big-screen performance, and it’s a tribute to Perry’s writing that he makes the voices of the two authors so distinct despite the men’s similar attitudes. Moss skillfully flashes fine-tuned emotional shifts in short periods of time as a woman who summons newfound inner strength.”

In Philip’s “insularity, his willingness to put his work above all else, even his relationships, there’s a glimmer of recognition many of us who work in the creative realm can identify with,” finds Kim Voynar, writing at Movie City News. “How much Philip’s truth reflects Perry’s own truths as the film’s writer and director, I couldn’t say. But I can say, without reservation, that with Listen Up Philip he’s certainly speaking a truth, and doing so with a rare, unflinching honesty, even if it’s sometimes hard to watch Philip’s tragically miserable existence unfold.”

Interviews. Jeff Olozia (T Magazine) with Perry; Kristin McCracken (Playlist) with Perry and Schwartzman; and Jada Yuan (Vulture) with Schwartzman and Moss.

Update, 3/1: “So rueful and wise is writer-director Alex Ross Perry’s Listen Up Philip about artistic ambition, youthful arrogance and middle-aged regrets, it comes as a shock to discover that Perry himself is not yet even 30,” writes Variety‘s Scott Foundas. “Philip won’t curry much favor with those critics and auds who routinely castigate the Coen brothers and Noah Baumbach for their dearth of ‘likable’ characters, but those with slightly more jaundiced eyes will feel right at home.”

Updates, 8/16: Listen Up Philip “is ultimately a ruthless portrait of a ruthless asshole, sadder than it is funny, becoming a darkly drawn portrait of loneliness and isolation,” writes Adam Cook in the Notebook. “Sean Price Williams’s gorgeous cinematography, devoted mostly to faces but also to capturing fleeting moments of golden light and passing shadows, hints at a world more beautiful than the one the film’s characters seem to notice.”

“Sprawling, unkempt, and often unlikeable, it’s one of the most impressively written and astutely performed films you’ll see this year,” writes Nicholas Bell at Ioncinema.

Update, 9/2: For Film Comment, Tina Poglajen talks with Perry, who tells her: “David Foster Wallace talks about how he wants to do something complex and challenging from a literary standpoint, but he always focuses on it being entertaining—it’s supposed to be easy to read. This is important if you are trying to do something that is emotionally or aesthetically challenging. You can’t forget that people are going to have to enjoy watching it.”

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