Listen Up Philip by Alex Ross
By Conor Plosia
As the Sundance Film Festival kicks off this week, so do many films making their premiers. Listen Up Philip is director Alex Ross’s third feature, and it did not disappoint. The eclectic cast includes Jason Schwartzman (Rushmore) Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men) and Jonathan Pryce (Brazil). The film revolves around Philip (Schwartzman) newly successful young novelist living in New York and struggling with his existence in just about every way. The film borrows it’s take on stylization from the likes of Noah Baumbach and Woody Allen, bur without seeming like a cheap knockoff. I have difficult time calling this film a “dark comedy,” but more so a “depressing comedy;” despite its comedic undertones, it still remains truthful to the pains of existence.
Schwartzman and Pryce are a match made in acting heaven: they bounce off each other’s pretentious, self-loathing personalities so well we almost forget how terrible their characters truly are. Pryce plays an aged writer who was Philips’ main inspiration for becoming a novelist. Their friendship grows stronger and more codependent as their relationships with the women in their lives deteriorate.
The film offers perspectives from all the main characters, even though the film is about Philip. It is charming and sadly charismatic , with some of the wittiest writing I’ve seen in a long time. Although we never grow to like Philip very much, our disdain for his anti-heroic qualities is maybe what we find so amusing about this self-absorbed writer.
Often times films about writers deal with process of writing, their struggles to finish their work. This movie deals with the aftermath of publication and the complications of being a published writer with critical acclaim, on the side of Philip and his friend and mentor played by Pryce. Philip has just finished his second novel, and despite its positive reception, he seems disappointed with the work itself while at the same time being pleased with his personal idea of success.
This film is not uplifting or positive in any way, but it offers a truthful and relatable story of the artist’s struggle. Great cinematography and lighting help this film push the boundaries of what a successful indie film can look and sound like. You wont want this miss Listen Up Philip if and when it comes to your city.