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Wednesday, October 8, 2014


Elisabeth Moss and Jason Schwartzman in Listen Up Philip distributed by Tribeca Film.
NYFF Review
2014, 108 minutes
Not Rated

Review by Joshua Handler

There's no one making films quite like Alex Ross Perry.  His films are confrontational, acidic, honest, yet very, very funny.  I immediately fell in love with Perry's work after seeing his 2011 film, The Color Wheel, which made me squirm with wonderful discomfort throughout.  While in ways The Color Wheel and Perry's latest, Listen Up Philip, are similar, Listen Up Philip shows an exponential leap for Perry both in maturity and filmmaking craft.  The film also features three outstanding performances from Jason Schwartzman, Elizabeth Moss, and Jonathan Pryce.  The 16mm cinematography by Sean Price Williams is also stunning, as it gives the NYC summertime scenes a beautiful glow.

Listen Up Philip follows Philip (Jason Schwartzman), an arrogant author who becomes more and more introverted after falling under the mentorship of Ike Zimmerman (Pryce).  This film is so special because of how uncompromising it is.  Perry focuses his entire film around a man who has no interest in changing, something never seen in films nowadays.  Philip is so misanthropic and hateful that his only option is to become more introverted.  Philip isn't a character who wants to change for the better, like most characters in other films, Hollywood or otherwise.

Perry has an ear for dialogue, and nearly every horrifying sentence out of Philip's mouth lands with a sting.  Watching many scenes of this film are like watching two people arguing - you want to look away because of how uncomfortable it is, but you just can't.  Schwartzman delivers this dialogue with precision, demonstrating throughout why this role was tailor-made for him.

Schwartzman has made a career of playing unlikable assholes, and Philip is the ultimate unlikable asshole.  Philip could've been a simple stereotype, but thanks to Schwartzman's inherent likability, Philip becomes a likable unlikable fool.  Elizabeth Moss is moving and gives her best performance to date.  She achieves an unmatched level of brilliance in one particular scene.  In this scene, Philip moves out of the apartment that he shares with Ashley (Moss), and the camera lingers on Moss' face in close up as she experiences a flood of different emotions.  Without saying a word, we can completely comprehend what's happening inside Ashley's mind.  This scene is beautiful and an incredible acting showcase.  Jonathan Pryce, one of the most underrated actors working today, is fittingly pretentious and mean as Ike.  Ike is such a thoroughly awful person (and Pryce is such a great actor) that in Pryce's scenes with Schwartzman, they almost make the film hard to watch (in the best possible way).

Overall, Listen Up Philip is a triumph for all involved.  While the film occasionally drags and is slightly too long, it is such a unique accomplishment that those small flaws can be forgiven.  Perry's abrasive style won't be for everyone, but for those who love their comedies a bit more misanthropic and poisonous, this will be the movie for you.


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