Anger rages in Philip (Jason Schwartzman) 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 (Elizabeth Moss), and his own indifference to promoting the novel. When Philip’s idol Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce) offers his isolated summer home as a refuge, he finally gets the peace and quiet to focus on his favorite subject: himself. (synopsis via Coming Soon)
I like to immerse myself in indie movies that take a long, hard look at the human condition.
That may be a reasonably unpopular thing to do among general moviegoers in this age of big, bright shiny blockbusters, many of which I should add I also enjoy, but there’s something weirdly cathartic about watching the pain, joy and disappointed ambivalence of someone else’s life consume your attention for a couple of hours or so.
I don’t mind if they’re searingly intense, gleeful comedic, or a wickedly clever mix of the two, set in a one room apartment or roaming across Brooklyn or small town America, equipped with a definitive ending or as oblique close to proceedings, as long as the script is sharp, the observations keen and the characters are demonstrably flawed and human and hence eminently relatable (to anyone even moderately self-aware).
Listen Up Philip, which premiered at Sundance in January, the third film from highly talented writer-director Alex Ross Perry, seems to tick a lot of those boxes according to a review in Variety by Scott Foundas:
“So rueful and wise is writer-director Alex Ross Perry’s Listen Up Philip about artistic ambition, youthful arrogance and middle-aged regrets, it comes as a shock to discover that Perry himself is not yet even 30. That gives this remarkably achieved feature a precocity nearly equal to that of the prodigal fiction writer who rests at its center, honing his craft at the expense of any and all meaningful relationships in his life. It’s a familiar tale, but one told by Perry with immense filmmaking verve and novelistic flourish, and acted by an exceptional ensemble cast. Philip won’t curry much favor with those critics and auds who routinely castigate the Coen brothers and Noah Baumbach for their dearth of “likable” characters, but those with slightly more jaundiced eyes will feel right at home. By any measure, the pic formally announces Perry as one of the most promising young talents on the indie scene.”
Frankly the lack of a likeable protagonist who leaves a trail of destruction in his narcissistic wake almost makes it more appealing, especially one who fails, as Foundas points out, to see the error of his ways.
That’s because none of us ever lives as perfectly as we want to, and while we may not be as extreme as Philip who is after all supremely unlikable for a reason – though Elizabeth Moss points out in an interview with Entertainment Weekly that that doesn’t make Philip unwatchable since while Schwartzman “doesn’t try to make them likeable … there’s something about the way he is that makes you just want to watch him. You’re interested in what his character’s doing even if he’s being an asshole.” – we’re all fallible to one degree or another and I find it refreshing to see that reflected on the screen.
It will be fascinating to see just how fallible and watchable Philip really is when the film, now signed to Tribeca Films for North American release, opens to wider audiences on October 17 in USA with video-on-demand to follow on October 21.