Listen Up Philip

Listen Up Philip

In Theatres: 
Nov 14, 2014
Running Time: 
108 minutes
There are movies you enjoy because they’re entertaining, and then there are movies you enjoy because they provide insight into a given subject, whether it’s good or bad. Listen Up Philip is the latter. It’s a rather depressing film about the life and relationships of a novelist who would do practically anything to further his own career, even if that means hurting the people closest to him.

Phillip (Jason Schwartzman) has found success in writing after publishing his first book. On the verge of his second publication, however, Philip finds himself unhappy with the direction his life has taken. Determined to focus on becoming a better writer, he pushes away his long time girlfriend Ashley (Elisabeth Moss) when the opportunity to study under the tutelage of his longtime idol, novelist Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce). It’s a sacrifice he’s willing to make in order to further his own ambitions.

Oftentimes a film’s main character is someone the audience can connect with on some level or watch progress into something better by the end. Philip is neither of those. In the first few minutes alone, Philip manages to burn bridges with an ex-girlfriend he reaches out to and a former friend who’s now in a wheelchair. You immediately hate the guy, and this sentiment doesn’t change by the end of the film, either. Philip is a narcissistic and arrogant asshole who only really cares about his own career and feigns interest in everything and everyone else. There’s this lingering hope that he’ll become a better person by the end of the film, and while he makes some steps in the right direction, he still ends up in the same place he started at. There’s no redemption, no happy ending. Just the sad, ugly truth.

Listen Up Philip may sound like nothing more than a depressing looking into the life of a writer, but it’s absolutely captivating with great performances from Jason Schwartzman, Elisabeth Moss, and Jonathan Pryce. As horrible of a person Philip is, he’s a fascinating character. In a time where superheroes and larger-than-life characters rule the big screen, he’s just a normal guy who seems real. The same can be said of everyone else, too. The film doesn’t solely focus on Philip and splits off into different sections that follow Ashley and Ike as they pursue their own lives outside of him. It’s easy to grow an attachment to these characters and their traits, both the good and the bad.

I did find the narration to be a little over-the-top, though. It felt like an easy cop out for telling exposition or to easily explain what’s going on in a character’s head rather than actually showing it through actions or even dialogue. There were a few times that it worked well in tandem with the film, but for the most part it felt unnecessary.

Listen Up Philip is one of those films where a single viewing is probably more than enough. It’s deeply dark and depressing, with hints of comedy, but it also has a great sense of realism surrounding it.
Matt Rodriguez
Review by Matt Rodriguez
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