The comedy genre is filled with writers writing about writing. Smalltime filmmaker Alex Ross Perry’s latest film is no exception and a love letter to the craft and the misery that follows its gifts. The Philip of the title is of course a writer, a largely arrogant and narcissistic neurotic, struggling with his genius in the wake of the release of his second book. When a chance opens up to escape New York City, the bustling metropolis that has imprisoned much of his creative thoughts, Philip seizes it and flees to the country to gather his life together. Listen Up Philip follows the intricacies of this supposed escape, and the effects it has on Philip himself and the other individuals in his life.
Delving deep into the fractured psyche of a troubled writer can often edge into dangerously indulgent territory if not handled with due care. Although Listen Up Philip is considerably romantic in both its narrative and its retro-fitted 70s styling (helped along by a classy 16mm film grain), its director embraces his themes to such a relentless degree that the film just becomes joyously entertaining. Perry’s delightfully dry humour powers the narration on a self-aware tone that’s as filled with winks as it is laughs, creating something both fun and consistently intelligent.
However, a quick-witted script is nothing without a cast to match, and luckily for Perry, the film loses no points here either. Jason Schwartzman was seemingly born to play the lovably detestable Philip, a role so poisonous but executed with a perfect dose of subtle emotion, buried right down deep. Elizabeth Moss, Krysten Ritter and a terrifically cast Jonathan Pryce provide ample support, but ultimately as the film’s title suggests, it’s all about Philip and Schwartzman is very much the star.
If Listen Up Philip is to be criticised on any account, it would most definitely be for simply just how self-powered it really is. Perry’s film caters for a niche audience – a love letter to the smarts of Kaufman and the laughs of Allen. The wandering and mostly directionless plotting (delivered without apology) doesn’t exactly help matters, making this very much a divided hit. For certain individuals, the film is a triumph of style and humour, for others, it’s a misguided mess of total self-indulgence. For fans of comedy, this is very much an original spin on a number of beloved tropes, and is well worthy of at least a taste.
Listen Up Philip, directed by Alex Ross Perry is showing as part of the BFI London Film Festival on 9 & 10 October. Tickets are available from whatson.bfi.org.uk. Watch the trailer below.