Jason Schwartzman should be quite used to playing writers by now, but none are as terrifyingly narcissistic as Philip, in Schwartzman’s newest film, Listen Up Philip (Perry, 2014).
It’s safe to say that Jason Schwartzman has a certain charm. His characters for the most part have been bumbling, aspiring artists (of one type or another) of Jewish descent. He has a very pleasant screen demeanour and nevermore so than in HBO’s wrongfully cancelled, Bored To Death. However, Listen Up Philip is about as far from that universe as Schwartzman could possibly get.
No, that’s not actually correct, it’s as if this is Jonathan Ames, but from another dimension. Here, Jonathan became Philip, the bitter, emotionally stunted, mean, and pretentious author. Of course, there’s still a certain charm here, Schwartzman’s charisma is undeniable, but quite simply, Philip is an arsehole. He’s Schwartzman’s biggest arsehole to-date and a notable addition to his previous roles, precisely because of the epic-ness of his arsehole-ness.
In short, Schwartzman is playing a right arsehole.
Philip is a prominent author in New York, a man incapable of holding down a relationship, whether it’s with his partner, Ashley (Elisabeth Moss), or his long-suffering friends. Things are getting progressively worse with Ashley, whom Philip resents because of her success as a photographer. Then, when writer Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce) – an author Philip idolises – contacts Philip and offers him the opportunity to stay at his country retreat, Philip jumps at the offer without a second thought for Ashley and thus drama ensues.
Listen Up Philip is not what many Schwartzman fans will expect but it still offers plenty of wit and despite the bleakness of the humour, there are even a few ‘laugh out loud’ moments. However, the comedy is often derived from sniggering at the gall of this pathetic and snide a little man.
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In fact, the character bears quite a lot of resemblance to characters in Igby Goes Down (Steers, 2002) and The Squid and the Whale (Baumbach, 2005) – both films directed (unsurprisingly) by contemporaries of Schwartzman’s.
The character is deplorable but after a string of (arguably) thankless cameo roles in the recent Wes Anderson films, this could be the smartest career move Schwartzman has made in recent years. Listen Up Philip won’t please all of Schwartzman’s fans, but it certainly marks Alex Ross Perry as an extremely talented scriptwriter, delivering one of the wittiest scripts I have seen this year.
Listen Up Philip is part of the BFI London Film Festival and it is being screened to the public on Thursday, October 9 and Friday, October 10. Visit the website for more information.