A womanizer who seems to despise women.
Writer and director Alex Ross Perry has pulled off a feat of cinematic alchemy. He has made an entertaining film about a monstrously unappealing character. Listen Up Philip stars Jason Schwartzman as the title character, a young New York writer whose second novel is being published. Philip is a maddening womanizer. In an early scene, a female admirer says, by way of clarification, that she's not a groupie. "If you were a groupie," Philip replies, "you probably would have read both of my books." I laughed at that and at other examples of Philip's self-absorption, as when he says, "I'm not successful. I'm notable. There's a difference."
I should disclose that for reasons a therapist could probably explain, I have a weakness for this kind of movie. Listen Up Philip is a darkly witty, claustrophobic comedy of manners about smart people who seem pathologically consumed with conveying how smart they are. Other films in this vein include Woody Allen comedies like Annie Hall, and with his tweed jacket, Philip evokes Allen's familiar screen persona. Listen Up Philip.
Like The Squid and the Whale, Listen Up Philip centers on a pretentious young man and his pretentious mentor. In the new film, the relationship is formed when Philip meets with Ike, a grizzled author who invites Philip to his country house. Jonathan Pryce gives a marvelous, brooding performance as Ike, whose prodigious literary success is conveyed in a montage of his book covers. Their amusing designs, by Teddy Blanks, lampoon Philip Roth dust jackets.
Philip visits Ike, leaving behind his girlfriend Ashley. Played wonderfully by Mad Men star Elisabeth Moss, Ashley is an up-and-coming commercial photographer. A substantial chunk of Listen Up Philip concerns her solo activities in New York, where she acquires a shelter pet and, alone at home, plays vintage vinyl and dances.
Much of the film unfolds in and around Ike's house, where the men struggle to write and have prickly interactions with Ike's daughter Melanie (Krysten Ritter). At Ike's urging, Philip takes a teaching job at a college, and there he has an unhealthy dalliance with a colleague and is rude to his students.
Philip and Ike's contempt for women is at the core of the film, and that can make for uncomfortable viewing. "Don't make yourself any more miserable than you need to be," Ike advises Philip. "Leave that to the women you love. That's pretty much what they're there for." A line like that may make you exit, screaming. But for better or worse, it's true to Ike's character. I've known men like that.