Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Listen Up Philip

Hei kuule Philip [Yle Teema 23 Sep 2015]. US © 2014 Listen Up Philip, LLC. PC: Sailor Bear / Washington Square Films / Faliro House Productions. P: Joshua Blum, Toby Halbrooks, James M. Johnston, David Lowery, Katie Stern. D+SC: Alex Ross Perry. DP: Sean Price Williams - negative: 16 mm - Super 16. PD: Scott Kuzio. AD: Fletcher Chancey. Set dec: Nora Mendis. Cost: Amanda Ford. Makeup: Amy L. Forsythe. M: Keegan DeWitt. Diana Ross & The Supremes: "I Hear A Symphony". S: Ryan M. Price. ED: Robert Greene. Casting: Lois J. Drabkin, Susan Shopmaker. C: Jason Schwartzman (Philip Lewis Friedman), Elisabeth Moss (Ashley Kane), Krysten Ritter (Melanie Zimmerman), Joséphine de La Baume (Yvette Dussart), Jonathan Pryce (Ike Zimmerman), Jess Weixler (Holly Kane), Dree Hemingway (Emily). Narrator: Eric Bogosian. 108 min
    Distributor: The Match Factory
    Love & Anarchy 28th Helsinki International Film Festival (HIFF).
    Viewed on a screener dvd.
    First HIFF screening 22 Sep 2015

HIFF catalog and website:

"Alex Ross Perry continues his cinematic quest to test the limits of just how far you can take the obnoxious misanthropy of your leading characters in Listen Up Philip. Explicitly set in the literary world for which the writer-director has indirectly evinced a great affinity in his previous, ultra-low-budget features, Impolex and The Color Wheel, this more ambitious venture focuses on the wilfully self-destructive impulses of a talented young novelist who simultaneously sabotages the potential success of his new novel and his love life, partly through his admiring relationship with a venerable older writer whose antisocial behavior is far more evolved than his own. (Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter)

By any measure, the pic formally announces Perry as one of the most promising young talents on the indie scene. (Scott Foundas, Variety)

Director Alex Ross Perry will attend all the screenings of Listen Up Philip (21st – 23rd of September)." (HIFF catalog)

AA: In this my first encounter with Alex Ross Perry I very much agree with the review of Scott Foundas in Variety (copied beyond the jump break) to which I have little to add.

Openly influenced by Philip Roth, even in homage to him, Listen Up Philip is an account of writers who are constitutionally incapable of empathy like blind bats fumbling in daylight. "You just don't see anything clearly."

Jason Schwartzman and Jonathan Pryce bring a raw honesty to their performances as writers who do not know how to live. There is the young promise and the established master. Ike Zimmerman refuses to be a mentor, Philip Lewis Friedman to be a protégé. Ike is both a model and an anti-model. Anyway Ike helps Philip by letting him work at his country place and helping him to get a job as a teacher. But his cynical and callous advice to Philip is more poisonous than fruitful. At the college Philip is alone, avoiding meaningful contact with anyone.

Called a comedy, Listen Up Philip amazes us constantly in scenes where famous writers fail utterly in basic human contacts.

There are moments of illumination. At the college, the fellow teacher Yvette (Joséphine de La Baume) is first Philip's nemesis, then his girlfriend. To her Philip reveals his unhealed wound: "my uncle raised me, as both my parents were killed in a car accident. Mom was pregnant, seven months". Philip has lost his compass and never found a sure footing since, which is perhaps the source of his sense of urgency in writing.

Ike has found fame and fortune but he is never happy, suffering from chronic narcissism and egocentrism. He writes for the world but offends everybody in his private life, most hurtingly his daughter. There is a moment of self-revelation when his daughter leaves.

These are difficult roles to play, and all the actors rise to the occasion. Jason Schwartzman, Jonathan Pryce, and Elisabeth Moss have been deservedly praised, but I found also Joséphine de La Baume impressive as Yvette, as well as Krysten Ritter as the daughter of the great old writer.

Jason Schwartzman plays the anti-hero who has a hard time making sense of life. He has two girlfriends, Ashley and Yvette, and he loses both. There is a feeling of constant unease and intolerable arrogance in him, yet also a stamina and a persistence (sisu in Finnish). We know he'll never give up even if he is facing "a lifetime of enemies and scorched earth".

Listen Up Philip is a paradoxical tribute to literature. We feel for the poor professionals at the publishing house who have to face the toxic presence of Philip. There are connections to James Salter and William Gaddis in the movie. The end credits are a montage of stylish hard cover book designs made for the movie. The literary quality is emphasized by the omniscient narrator ("nothing lasts forever").

The music is very enjoyable, and it adds a liberating, relaxed and humoristic dimension to the movie.

There is a warm glow in the hues due to the Super 16 mm cinematography. The autumn leaves shine bright. A lot of the cinematography in this chamber piece is handheld, a lot in medium, close-up, and extreme close up, with a sense of immediacy.


Philip (Jason Schwartzman) on yhden romaanin julkaissut itsekäs kusipää ja tyttöystäväänsä pettävä paskiainen. Toisen kirjan kirjoitus kangertelee, tyttöystävä Ashley (Elizabeth Moss) saa huomiota muilta miehiltä ja vanhemman kirjailijan Iken (Jonathan Pryce) avustuksella Philip lähtee maalle viimeistelemään teostaan.

Philip elää itselleen rakentamassa yhden miehen todellisuudessa, eikä usko suoria sanoja omasta mitättömyydestään. Sen sijaan Philip ponnistaa Ashleyn päältä suoraan uuteen uljaaseen boheemielämään, mikä osoittautuu käännekohdaksi Ashleylle. Philip vaikuttaa läsnäolollaan myös Ikeen, jonka taantuu takaisin nuoruutensa elämäntyyliin.

Ohjaaja ja käsikirjoittaja Alex Ross Perry nimesi ehkä elokuvansa miehen mukaan, mutta naisille tuntuu riittävän enemmän ymmärrystä. Ashleyn haparoivia erostaselviytymiskeinoja ei romantisoida, mutta niistä välittyy syvä inhimillisyys, joka Philipin käytöksestä puuttuu. Silti Philipin kykenemättömyys tajuta maailman pyörivän ilman hänen napaansa tuntuu häkellyttävän tutulta.

Johanna Siik

Ohjaaja Alex Ross Perry paikalla Listen Up Philipin kaikissa näytöksissä (21. – 23.9.).

Movies | Inside Movies
Sundance 2014: Jason Schwartzman channels a jerk in 'Listen Up Philip'
by Lindsey Bahr
Posted January 13 2014 — 9:11 PM EST

Philip is not the most likable guy. In the first few seconds of director Alex Ross Perry’s film, Listen Up Philip (premiering at Sundance on Jan. 20), we see Philip (Jason Schwartzman) rushing down a New York street as a narrator (Eric Bogosian) explains that he’s ”characteristically not in a hurry, but perpetually enraged by slow foot traffic before him.”

It’s the perfect intro to the character that you’re about to spend the next 108 minutes with as the embittered, narcissistic writer navigates his life, the stresses behind the release of his second novel, and his crumbling relationship. But you can’t seem to look away.

“The character is so specific and such a curmudgeon and so angry. But when I heard that Jason [Schwartzman] wanted to do it, it really clarified things for me,” said Elisabeth Moss, who plays Philip’s photographer girlfriend in the film. “Jason has this knack for playing characters who are maybe not necessarily that likable. He doesn’t try to make them likable, but 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.”


“I based Philip on my daughter,” Schwartzman joked. “A lot of times I would say to Alex, like, ‘No one would say this. This seems unreal.’ And he’d be like, ‘Well, it’s actually based on this person or that person, or this actually happened.’ A lot of this movie is true. I’ve met some of these types of people.”

James Salter’s short story “Last Night” influenced Schwartzman’s approach to the role after he heard Thomas McGuane read it on a podcast. “[McGuane] talked about why he chose it and what he liked about it. He said, ‘This main character…I just don’t trust him. I don’t like this guy and I don’t trust him.’ Now I have not read nearly as many books as I should have, and this is something I might regret having said later, but I remember thinking, ‘Oh, you mean you don’t have to trust and like the main character?’ This was before I had even read Listen Up Philip. It stayed with me.”

Still, Schwartzman said, “I kept having to fight my instincts to make things socially acceptable in all situations.”


Perry, a 2006 NYU film grad and Kim’s Video alum who gained acclaim for his sophomore feature The Color Wheel, worked closely with his cinematographer Sean Price Williams to develop the look and tone of the film – drawing from the amorphous way time is used in the 1972 Maurice Pialat film We Won’t Grow Old Together and the camera work in Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives. “I’ve never seen anything like it in any of his films or anybody else’s films. It’s from another universe of filmmaking,” Perry said.

From there, Perry assembled his dream cast, including Schwartzman and Moss – who’d known each other socially in Los Angeles during his Phantom Planet days and had always wanted to work together – Jonathan Pryce, who plays Philip’s literary idol Ike Zimmerman, and Krysten Ritter, who plays Zimmerman’s daughter. For Moss, she was just excited to finally play a character she could specifically relate to. ”It’s the story of a girl going through a breakup in New York in the summer. I lived in New York for 11 years. I’ve gone through those and I really felt like I wanted to explore that,” she said.


Perry admits that the experience of making the film couldn’t have been better. He got 26 days to shoot 135 pages of material and didn’t have to resort to crowd funding for help. And his film gets to have its debut at Sundance. “I feel bad. The story of the movie is so positive. It’s just me saying I got the best people possible and they were amazing to work with. That’s not a fun story. It’s not like a legendary tale of production.”

“I was very nervous,” Perry said of his first high-profile film with known actors. “But, my nervousness about working with world-class talent basically disappeared because they came to play on our court so excited to be part of this very small, very unique process.”

Entertainment Weekly, 13 Jan 2014

Film Review: ‘Listen Up Philip’

Jason Schwartzman shines as a self-absorbed writer who doesn't quite learn the err of his ways in Alex Ross Perry's sharp and darkly funny third feature.

Scott Foundas
Chief Film Critic @foundasonfilm   

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.

Actually Perry’s third feature, following the micro-budget, Pynchon-esque “Impolex” in 2009 and the more widely screened “The Color Wheel” in 2011, “Listen Up Philip” reps a quantum leap for the filmmaker in terms of its narrative ambitions, the complexity of its characters, and the confidence with which Perry handles his “name” cast. That includes a tailor-made role for Jason Schwartzman, whose Philip Lewis Friedman could be “Rushmore’s” Max Fischer a decade down the road, or a junior version of Jeff Daniels’ bilious, self-loathing author from “The Squid and the Whale.”

When we first meet him, Philip is a New York literary star on the rise, with a hit debut novel (“Join the Street Parade”) behind him and a second (sporting the suitably pretentious title of “Obidant”) about to be published. But thanks to that curse common to writers, Philip is anything but happy or well adjusted, sure that his success is doomed to be short-lived, and indifferent or outright hostile to anyone who doesn’t share his self-centric worldview — including his live-in photographer girlfriend, Ashley (Elisabeth Moss, excellent).

These early passages of “Listen Up Philip” rush at the viewer in short, staccato scenes accompanied by the running voiceover of an omniscient narrator (Eric Bogosian, a la Alec Baldwin in “The Royal Tenenbaums”), which creates the sense that Philip is forever transfiguring his life into fiction, even as it is happening to him in the moment. And Perry, who cast himself as a snarkier-than-thou aspiring writer in “The Color Wheel,” sets up one hilariously egocentric moment after the next: Scheduled to set off on a promotional tour, Philip decides (to his publisher’s understandable alarm) to forgo all publicity and let “Obidant” speak for itself; asked to write a magazine profile of a fellow young writer, Philip agrees, only to quickly sabotage things by proposing to his subject that they get into a fistfight. At every step, Schwartzman is wonderfully callow and oblivious, like a spoiled only child still throwing tantrums in his 30s and expecting to get away with it.

The movie comes to focus on Philip’s burgeoning friendship with one of his literary heroes, Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce), a prolific ’70s novelist celebrated for his bestselling “Madness and Women,” and a clear surrogate for another Philip (Roth). Zimmerman (the name nods to Roth’s own longtime alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman) takes a paternal interest in the younger man of letters, inviting him for an extended stay at his upstate home, and eventually securing him a teaching post at a small liberal-arts college. Perhaps he sees in Philip something of himself, or at least an eager protege to whom he can proffer such wisdom as: “Don’t make yourself any more miserable than you need. Leave that to the women you love. That’s pretty much what they’re there for.” It’s a role that fits Pryce, who gave one of his best performances as the writer Lytton Strachey in “Carrington,” even more snugly than Philip does Schwartzman — the literary lion well past his prime, deeply in love with the sound of his own voice, and a portrait of where Philip himself might end up in a few decades’ time.

But this isn’t just Philip’s story. In a risky structural device that owes more to literature than to cinema (specifically, per Perry, to William Gaddis’ legendary debut novel, “The Recognitions”), “Listen Up Philip” puts its title character on hold for a lengthy mid-film stretch, shifting its focus back to Ashley as she picks up the pieces of her post-Philip life. Then Perry does the same thing for Zimmerman, whom we see battling writer’s block and haphazardly trying to smooth out his fraught relationship with his own adult daughter (Krysten Ritter). The cumulative effect is like listening a series of inspired solos by the members of a jazz ensemble, and it makes “Listen Up Philip” that rare movie in which no character feels subordinate.

In Philip, Perry has created the kind of character sure to repel viewers who crave conventional heroes and recoil at seeing their own worst tendencies splayed large on the screen. At every step, he makes incredibly poor decisions, shows staggering insensitivity to anyone else’s feelings, and seems congenitally unable to learn from past mistakes. Yet it’s to Perry and Schwartzman’s credit that we also see how Philip’s ego, while inflated to massive proportions, retains an eggshell fragility: the driven perfectionist who craves affirmation; the hapless relationship partner who nevertheless craves the company of another. If that doesn’t make the character entirely sympathetic, it does make him eminently relatable, at least for those who believe it is one of the functions of art to reflect life as we live it and not merely as we wish it to be.

“Listen Up Philip” feels at once timeless in its sense of the tension between a writer’s life and work, and very much of the moment in its nostalgia for hardcover books with graphically elaborate dust jackets (a whole series of which have been custom-designed for the movie by Teddy Blanks and Anna Bak-Kvapil), and for a New York where intellectual rather than financial life set the pulse of the city. Certainly, the city seems alive with a warm, bohemian glow in the exquisite Super 16mm lensing of d.p. Sean Price Williams, whose lucid handheld camera bobs and weaves much like a pen in a writer’s hand.

Film Review: 'Listen Up Philip'
Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Next), Jan. 23, 2014. Running time: 109 MIN.

A Washington Square Films/Sailor Bear production. (International sales: Cinetic, New York.) Produced by Katie Stern, Joshua Blum, James M. Johnston, Toby Halbrooks, David Lowery. Executive producer, Christos V. Konstantakopoulos. Co-producer, Michaela McKee.

Directed, written by Alex Ross Perry. Camera (color, Super 16mm), Sean Price Williams; editor, Robert Greene; music, Keegan DeWitt; production designer, Scott Kuzio; art director, Fletcher Chancey; set decorator, Nora Mendis; costume designer, Amanda Ford; sound, Clayton Castellanos; supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer, Ryan M. Price; assistant director, Inna Braude; casting, Susan Shopmaker, Lois Drabkin.

Jason Schwartzman, Elisabeth Moss, Krysten Ritter, Josephine de La Baume, Eric Bogosian, Jonathan Pryce, Jess Weixler, Dree Hemingway, Keith Poulson, Kate Lyn Sheil.

Filed Under: Alex Ross Perry, Jason Schwartzman, Jonathan Pryce, Los Cabos Daily Two, Sundance Film Festival   

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