How you respond to “Listen Up Philip” might depend on how you respond to a complex, intelligent but thoroughly annoying person who gets up in your face at a party. Are you intrigued, or do you want to back away? Alex Ross Perry’s film, shot in faded colors and jarring extreme closeup, has at its center just such a person: Philip (Jason Schwartzman), a New York novelist frustrated, it seems, by his own success. His relationship with his girlfriend, Ashley (Elisabeth Moss), has become distant and the city seems to be closing in on him — so he accepts an invitation from his idol, the Philip Roth-like novelist Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce), to retreat to Ike’s summer home.
Schwartzman’s awfully good at playing a self-absorbed jerk (there’s a stillness to Philip’s face, as if he can’t be bothered with the effort of facial expression, that’s uncanny), and for a while the character’s just funny enough to be interesting, as is the 1980s literary scene in which he roams. (It takes a while to figure out the time period; at first, his electric typewriter just seems like an affectation.) But you quickly grow tired of Philip, and it seems that the movie does, too: It takes a break, midway through, to show us how Ashley is handling the separation, and Moss’ quiet, serene sweetness is like water in the desert.
But it’s Philip’s movie, and his eventual return wears the story down. It’s a movie full of clever touches (such as Eric Bogosian’s sly voice-over, and the perfect ’80s look of Philip’s and Ike’s book jackets), but whose central character is the sort that you might cross a crowded room to avoid.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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