Jason Schwartzman, Jonathan Pryce, Elisabeth Moss. Exquisite performers doing fine work, with novice writer/director Alex Ross Perry's rings-true, deeply hilarious, and often astonishing script.
Schwartzman's 'Philip', blunt young novelist on the verge of stardom, overthinks and over-expresses his live-in relationship with successful photographer Moss, in a tone masterfully tragi-comic. Meanwhile he takes on an aging mentor in the form of overly-prolific writer and all-round monster Pryce. (Must have been great fun creating the dozen or more satirical fake titles and book covers for Pryce's ouvre. And choosing the curley-queue typeface from 1960s paperback covers for the credits -- suggesting Jacqueline Suzanne and Philip Roth -- warmed my little nostalgic heart.)
Moss and Pryce bless the material with their usual raw, unvarnished truth. Pryce's holy terror is no hack movie villain -- he's the guy a lot of us know, admire, and dread. But Schwartzman -- ah, Monsieur Le Schwartzman -- is in a much better movie than the others. He is The Vortex, and when he is not on screen the film's purpose evaporates, like -- poof -- immediately.
Perhaps luring the fabulous Elisabeth Moss to the project at the 2014 point in her brilliant career required giving her an extended Schwartzman-free segment. Moss is always fascinating and unrelentingly appealing -- but the material meanders in her 'separate life' sequence -- and it all starts to feel tacked on. Should have developed this as a separate splendid movie for Moss instead (I know -- easily said . . .).
There may be structural problems with Alex Ross Perry's script, but his direction of the actors is inspired, and he has a true gift for casting. Location choices, framing choices, mise-en-scene stuff generally prove Perry's is the soul of an artist. Alex Perry knows what a movie is, the way Michael Powell knew, the way Douglas Sirk knew.
Alas, the script/edit in the released film breaks a film lover's heart: at times it veers toward greatness, then heads toward what one hopes is mimetic satire of bad writing (appropriate in a story about anguished writers), but, oh dear, after a point we realize the film has lost its way, even though the smart, committed performances keep us engaged.
The voice-over narration device creaks to the point of annoyance. Again, it is likely a satire of bad writing; it dawned on this humble reviewer too late that it is the voice of Schwartzman's character from his future as old embittered successful hack, relating the events of the film as reductive and clichéd memoir -- i.e., after he has aged into the Schwartzman counterpart of Pryce's dissipated beast. The tip-off is that the narration is not in Schwartzman's reedy voice, (nor Pryce's whiny growl, ruling his character out), but the seasoned baritone of Eric Bogosian. A lesser film would have spelled all this out for me in the beginning; a better film would have let me in on the joke a lot sooner.
But the world is a better place for this film -- it shows us once again that Schwartzman is a thrillingly observant actor. I always feel he is revealing truths you won't learn anywhere else. Like an earthier version of the young Richard Dreyfus, he ruthlessly justifies every action of the -- mostly A-holes -- he plays. I think his best is yet to come.
Overall I am compelled to give 'Listen Up, Philip' a ten for its many successes, its gadzooks! casting, its general ambition, and for its deep respect for the audience. Alex Ross Perry is a keeper.
Listen Up Philip
Action / Comedy / Drama
Listen Up Philip
Action / Comedy / Drama
Anger rages in Philip as he awaits the publication of his second novel. He feels pushed out of his adopted home city by the constant crowds and noise, a deteriorating relationship with his photographer girlfriend Ashley, and his own indifference to promoting the novel. When Philip's idol Ike Zimmerman offers his isolated summer home as a refuge, he finally gets the peace and quiet to focus on his favorite subject: himself.
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July 28, 2015 at 12:56 PM