Give me an independent comedy starring Jason Schwartzman and you will encounter a very happy film lover. I seriously have nothing but admiration for the chap, and I think he is one of the most flawlessly entertaining comedic actors currently working today. I will not venture into all the reasons why Schwartzman is brilliant, but instead concentrate on his magnum opus – the amazing indie comedy Listen Up Philip, an ode to all of us writers out there.
Being a writer is a noble profession, but it is also a very daunting one. I can only imagine the pressure placed on someone who has written a masterpiece, and the constant questions of “when is the next one coming?” can surely drive someone insane. For Philip Lewis Friedman, played flawlessly by Schwartzman, it is too much, and he decides to run to his favorite author and soon-to-be mentor Ike Zimmerman (the underrated Jonathan Pryce). However, it puts a strain on his relationship with his girlfriend, Ashley (Elisabeth Moss, who absolutely blew me away). The film navigates the months between these three individuals and their experiences over that period of time.
It sounds like a very uneventful and fruitless film. It most certainly is. The pace is slow, the story isn’t very exciting, and the dialouge is as if William Shakespeare was a Bronx poet in the 1980s. However, it is an absolute revelation of a film.
There was a certain tangibility to comedies made in the 1970s, by the likes of Woody Allen and Robert Altman. They featured very offbeat humor, were filmed in a very warm and unique way and their lead characters were almost always people in an existential crisis. Listen Up Philip feels like it would fit in there much more comfortably than it does here. It doesn’t feel like a 21st century comedy, which most people define as toilet humor and sex jokes. Instead, this is a sophisticated and funny little film, and one that Woody Allen or Robert Altman would have been hard-pressed to make as brilliantly as Alex Ross Perry (a young director with great potential). Of course, the jazzy score and the obscurely entertaining narration are equally important in making this a very unique film.
There is a very strange streak of humor that runs through this film. This film is hardly ever laugh-out-loud hilarious, and it has its very dark moments where our characters feel bleak uncertainty. But the way the characters conduct themselves, the way they speak to each other and the situations they find themselves in are truly comedic brilliance, as they are, most of all, absolutely true. Perry finds himself in all too familiar territory for many of us, and his characters respond to situations that do not remain faithful to the cinematic guidelines, but instead they respond in the way all of us “normal people” would respond. I always assert that in all comedies, the best moments are the smallest ones, and Listen Up Philip is a film composed entirely of those small moments, but unlike a comedy that fills itself with big moments and overstays its welcome very soon, this film just keeps getting better and better as it goes on.
It is very difficult for me to review this film, as it takes great restraint to separate the part of me that loves film, and the part of me that loves THIS film. It is difficult to give an unbiased opinion on Listen Up Philip because, as longtime readers will know, I am a devotee of the church of independent cinema, and when someone like Alex Ross Perry comes along and creates something so gloriously unique and interesting, I have to prick my ears up and take note, and I pretty much loved this film before I even started watching it. Luckily it didn’t disappoint. However, I have to give a disclaimer here – this (as all my reviews are) is just my own personal opinion based on what I like and don’t like, and I love independent cinema, as do many people, and I truly believe that those who love independent cinema will love this. However, I do warn anyone that isn’t a fan of independent cinema, Listen Up Philip is not the film to convert you. It is the quintessential independent comedy, and thus anyone who hates that kind of thing will not change their tune after seeing this. But I do urge everyone who wants a very interesting film experience to check Listen Up Philip out. Not only is it a great film, it is also supporting our independent cinema community, and as the likes of Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese have shown, a little support can help a filmmaker absolutely thrive in the industry. So give it a try – what’s the worst that can happen?
I adored this film. Sweet, funny, bitter and darkly cynical, it is a film that you never really want to end. It is an intelligent film with a message underlying it (I will leave that for you to figure out), and a film I would definitely reccomend to anyone who wants something different. A masterpiece