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By Daniel Lammin
31st August 2015

Independent American cinema loves making films about writers and their creative process, so much so that there doesn’t seem to be anything new to say about it. They usually hit some sort of writer's block, get grumpy, yell at their loved ones a lot and then come to some sort of creative and personal redemption. Thank goodness for Alex Ross Perry’s ‘Listen Up Philip’ then, which has no time for those clichés, instead offering an observation few feel comfortable mentioning - that sometimes, creative people can be real tools.

Philip (Jason Schwartzman) is a moderately successful writer about to release his second novel. He’s also selfish, grossly egotistical, abrasive, judgemental, grumpy and thoroughly unlikable. Determined to prove to everyone just how much of a titan of literature he is, he ends his already strained relationship with photographer Ashley (Elisabeth Moss) and places himself in the orbit of his literary idol Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce). Shifting his negativity from person to person, Philip finds himself sinking into further despondency, both because of how happy Ashley now appears to be and because no one seems to understand just how much of a genius he is.


It’s a minor miracle that ‘Listen Up Philip’ can have such an unlikable turd of a human being as its central character and yet be as entertaining and funny as it is. What saves it is that Perry and Schwartzman totally understand how pathetic Philip is, and allow this to become the point. He doesn’t grow or learn, constantly insistent that everyone is wrong except for him, but while Philip never develops, his attitude allows everyone around him to. The film is a trio between Philip, Ashley and Ike - Ashley finds herself growing in Philip’s absence, while Ike finds himself lost without him.

‘Listen Up Phillip’ is the kind of character piece that made Woody Allen famous, shot with tremendous style on 16mm film, giving it a nostalgic 1970s quality. Perry’s direction and screenplay are razor sharp, full of exceptional moments of humour and pathos, and the performances across the board are fantastic. Everyone looks like they’re having a ball, playing with some cracking dialogue and these wonderfully unlikeable characters. It’s a tiny film with a wicked tongue, and one that isn’t afraid to point out that to be a creative being or to be talented doesn’t make you a good person. If the world of writing has developed a kind of nostalgic romance to it, ‘Listen Up Philip’ throws a healthy bucket of mud all over it.

‘Listen Up Phillip’ is the kind of character piece that made Woody Allen famous.

Madman have only released the film on DVD, which is understandable considering the very limited theatrical release the film received in cinemas. Because of the 16mm photography, the film suffers a tad more than usual from the restrictions of standard definition, but it’s still a fine 1.85:1 transfer. In particular, it preserves the desaturated colour palette that’s so important to the look and the tone of the film. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track also does a good job, especially balancing the sound design and the narration that runs through the film.

Apart from a theatrical trailer, there are no extras included on the disc.

RELEASE DATE: 02/09/2015
RUN TIME: 1h 45m
CAST: Jason Schwartzman
Elisabeth Moss
Jonathan Pryce
PRODUCERS: Joshua Blum
Toby Halbrooks
James M. Johnston
David Lowery
Katie Stern
SCORE: Keegan Dewitt
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