The 70s are lovingly recreated in Alex Ross Perry’s tale of grumpy old men and the women they tolerate.
Philip Louis Friedman (Jason Schwartzman) is an author, about to publish his second novel and very pleased with his own success. The opening shakycam footage is the perfect introduction to our charmer, we’re immediately buzzing off Philip’s nervous energy – a burning fury deep in his soul that makes him quite cross with everyone and everything in his life for no obvious reason. Somehow, despite being such an insufferable arsehole, he’s managed to entice a string of girlfriends into his life, each one of which he treats with disdain as they fail to worship his greatness quite as much as he requires. In this opening scene, he’s on his way to meet up with one to make sure she knows how little a part she played in his success. This is a bit of theme with Philip – if you’ve upset him, he won’t have forgotten, he’ll just be waiting for the right time to share his disappointment with you.
For the adoration he feels he deserves, Philip turns to ageing fellow writer Ike Zimmerman (a superb Jonathan Pryce) who’s coming to the end of his career and in need of some reassurance of his own greatness. It’s a bit like Dorian Grey going to that picture in his attic for life coaching. Both men are arrogant, narcissistic specimens of manhood who think the women in their lives are only there for some light relief against the serious business of being a great author. The relationship serves only to make their egos even bigger, if that’s possible. It’s testament to Schwartzman’s tightly-clipped performance that obnoxious as he is, you still hope he’ll find some sort of resolution to his fury.
Listen Up Philip is smartly written and very funny, with excellent performances from Schwartzman and particularly Elisabeth Moss, (playing his latest girlfriend Ashley) who always impresses. Eric Bogosnian’s narration is spot on too. For me, though, it dragged a bit towards the end, and the slightly muted response it got from the festival audience suggest I wasn’t the only one who thought so.