PFF23: Listen Up Philip (Alex Ross Perry, USA)

I find it hard to recommend certain films to people on the basis of their potential inaccessibility. Alex Ross Perry’s preceding effort The Color Wheel just so happens to fit this mold, what with an unwavering focus on two narcissistic siblings serving to either woo or alienate. The writer/director’s latest further accentuates his proclivity for intelligent humor and mold-breaking comedic narrative, this time focusing on Jason Schwartzman as an established author intent on vaporizing the scarce, already tenuous bonds with everyone he knows and (possibly) loves.

Purposefully unlikable amid one snappy exchange after another, Schwartzman’s Philip is schadenfreude perfection as he delightfully navigates his self-inflicted existential crisis. Befriending fellow author and narcissist Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce), the ensuing relationship effectively squashes Philip’s remaining iota of responsibility regarding others, thus setting the stage for frequently hilarious proceedings. Whether it’s the helpfully narrated dissection of Philip’s behavior or a rudimentary walk in the park with a former flame, Ross Perry’s assured and unique brand of storytelling does wonders for it all.

In terms of Philip as a human-being, sure, he’s unbearable. Then again, Listen Up Philip wouldn’t be itself if it weren’t for an unconvoluted chronicling of the character’s irreparably toxic persona. As the film certainly thrives during focal shifts between Philip and those closest to him, we’re offered a uniquely realized character study that’s bold in committing to its distasteful subject.

As he wears his voluminous flaws on his sleeve, Philip still isn’t particularly crass or lurid – he’s just a textbook narcissist hellbent on achieving what he sets out to. While not admirable by way of intention, Listen Up Philip‘s titular protagonist scores points for how deftly he and his exploits are illustrated. Ross Perry’s assured production of material this presumably personal is ballsy to say the least, and I for one laud its biting wit and oddly uplifting, moreover gratifying conclusion. To piggyback my opening statement, this particular film is firmly divisive in scope, however those familiar with Ross Perry’s 2011 effort and his inspirations will find something to like or even love.

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