Writers are an interesting breed. They see the world in a way that is contrary to most non-creative types. To put together a piece of work that elicits powerful emotion and invites the reader to think, well that is just what knowledge and the pursuit of all things good is all about. The latest independent drama Listen Up Philip is a film that puts writers under the microscope and examines their place in society. With a strong cast and a dry, witty script, this is a film that won’t draw in mass audiences but it will leave an impression on the artsy crowd hungry for eccentric characters with realistic problems.
Philip (Jason Schwartzman) is a neurotic young novelist living in New York City. He has a rocky relationship with his live-in girlfriend Ashley (Elisabeth Moss) and a close friend in older and more successful author Ike Zimmerman (a fantastic Jonathan Pryce). Philip’s second novel is about to be published and he is a little on edge. His worries about his career and his love life are at the forefront of the film and like many Woody Allen or Ben Stiller types, Philip is one character you probably won’t empathize with at first but might come to appreciate somewhere down the road.
In Listen Up Philip, Schwartzman channels his former Max Fischer character from Rushmore by playing another arrogant little punk. He is highly intelligent and thinks mostly about himself with little to no regard for others. Though he is narcissistic and deep in his own world, he does make a valuable connection to mentor and friend Ike. The scenes these two share are absolute gold because they are two very different personalities who share one common passion: the written word.
An indie film all the way, Listen Up Philip has a razor sharp script by writer/director Alex Ross Perry (The Color Wheel, Impolex) and a visual style that is both stylish and attractive. The shaky camera represents Philip’s unbalanced emotional state and the various locations in the picture are filmed quite beautifully. Schwartzman anchors the film well and even though his character isn’t the most likable of characters, he does have a certain spark that keeps things moving. The audience gets into the head of a thoughtful intellectual and the results are actually pretty decent.
Indie films are quickly becoming mainstream with many popular actors gravitating to material that is appealing to wider audiences but written and directed by lesser-knowns. Listen Up Philip has a lot going for it and tackles the subject of writing and the world of writers in a fresh and original way. A similar film, 2000’s Wonder Boys handles the subject similarly and really shows the sometimes tortured soul that a wordsmith has to struggle with. Schwartzman is in fine form as usual and his snarky hipster persona is sometimes likable but mostly not. We just go along for the ride because hopefully something will come of it. Jonathan Pryce is the film’s best aspect and his aging free spirit is actually really fun to watch. Listen Up Philip isn’t a masterpiece by any means but it does have some strong qualities worth checking out.