Jason Schwartzman has played plenty of narcissists before whether it was Max Fisher in “Rushmore” or Gideon Graves in “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” but his role in “Listen Up Philip” may be his most toxic interpretation of a narcissist so full of himself that he even acknowledges his own boorish behavior.
Philip Friedman’s (Schwartzman) second novel is on the verge of being a success, but Philip still feels the urge to rub it in the face of his ex-girlfriend and former roommate. When he meets his idol Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce), he is urged by Zimmerman to stay with him at his summer home to help chart his growth as a writer. While Philip is thrilled by the opportunity to work with someone he has looked up to, longtime photographer girlfriend Ashley (Elisabeth Moss) is bewildered that he did not consider her in the decision making process. This eventually leads to their breakup and Ashley doing the best she can to live her life without Philip. Meanwhile, Philip gets a job at a local university as a professor, he finds himself competing with another professor (Josephine de La Baume) who turns the faculty against him.
Directed and written by Alex Ross Perry, “Listen Up Philip” feels like a film that Woody Allen would have made in the 1970s that would have featured Allen as the main character. As talented as Perry as a director and writer, his choice in how to shoot the film is a bit confounding. The cinematography is quite dizzying and jarring at times when it ceases stand still as the cameras get close to the actors’ face.
Schwartzman might be a nice guy in real life, but he sure does a great job playing an unlikable and detestable schmuck. Philip does whatever he can do in order to become a greater success, even if it means treat everyone that he knows like dirt. He is the kind of the guy who would not only berate a homeless person for not having a job, but also let refuse to give him money to add insult on top of insult. Pryce’s character is a selfish and bitter old man who has burned enough bridges to put himself in a state of self-isolation. His behavior is quite similar to Philip as they could be Philip’s potential future if he keeps acting the way he does.
On the opposite of the spectrum, Moss delivers a fantastic performance as a woman who learns to move on with her life without Phillip, which is not easy process for her to go through. One brilliant piece of acting from Moss comes in the way her facial expressions varies when she finally breaks up with Phillip at her apartment as she goes through a whole range of emotions under a minute.
“Listen Up Philip” is an interesting character study featuring an unsympathetic and miserable person as the main character. Schwartzman and Pryce deliver good performances in the movie, but Moss rises above with a tremendous performance as Philip’s long suffering girlfriend who breaks free from enduring anymore of intolerable behavior.
“Listen Up Philip” is now playing exclusively at the Miami Beach Cinematheque.