Listen Up Philip
When the frequently braved "writer's block" genre produces a winner - evading the call of mediocrity that beckoned Secret Window, Deconstructing Harry, Ruby Sparks, Finding Neverland, and the like - it really produces a winner. By nature of its subject matter, it tends to test the limits of form, character, pathos, and human imagination. In stark contrast to the suffocating destiny chronicled therein, we wind up with creative liberation: The Shining, Barton Fink, Adaptation., and now Listen Up Philip. It's been more than a decade since we've seen an original, diabolical, earnest, and fun movie about writing and writers as Alex Ross Perry's dip into the mania that is fiction composition. Not simply presenting but celebrating all the narcissistic, panphobic, and sociopathic typhoons inherent in the trade, Listen Up Philip manages the rare feat of showcasing something in its honest form and still making it enjoyable to look at.
Jason Schwartzman was born to play Philip Lewis Friedman, an under-35 curmudgeon who manages to escape the viewer's derision thanks to A) occasional flashes of the doe-eyed idiot boy that seems to live on inside of him, and B) how outrageously funny he is from start to finish. He surrounds himself with a class of character deserving little more admiration. His girlfriend Ashley (Elisabeth Moss) wades around ideas and identities, winning our sympathies but stewing in her psychological absence. Fans of Moss from Mad Men or Top of the Lake will cherish every second she spends onscreen in Listen Up Philip, finally able to work her magic in an earthy, low-concept dramedy.
Philip's mentor is Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce), the Baby Boomers' stoic, stubborn, and chauvinistic answer to Generation X's entitled, irritable, all around incompetent title character. At the dawn of the film, Ike takes fellow malcontent Philip under his wing, probing the young man to find an outlet for his inarguable talent. The process lays varying degrees of waste to the lives of Philip, Ike, Ashley, and the assortment of characters unlucky enough (though more or less deserving of their fate) to be stuck in the company of the man-children at the center of the film.
Listen Up Philip is light on plot and oustandingly rich with character. As such, chapters that stray from its stronger figures (Philip and Ashley, unsurprisingly) toward the attention of secondary folk - the only significant culprit of this is a segment devoted to Joséphine de La Baume's Yvette - lag and lend to lapsed interest. But once we return to the mordant dissection of the inexcusable lifestyle entailed by writing and inexplicable agents of bile that willingly abide by such parameters, we're right back in the thick, hot, blood pool that is the fun.