When an egotistical novelist anticipates success with his latest book, he becomes even more impossible to live with – but after he suddenly finds himself friendless, will he change his ways?
Philip (Schwartzman) is a jerk. About to have his second novel published, early signs indicate that it will be even more successful than his first. Unfortunately, all of this good fortune seems to be going straight to his head; he treats his friends shabbily, ignores his girlfriend Ashley (Moss) and refuses requests by his publishing company to promote the book. Because he’s being so self-involved and rude to everyone, Philip starts to find that they are all turning their back on him, which only supports his disdain for them. He winds up blaming everyone else except himself.
It is at this point that Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce) reaches out to Philip; Ike, an experienced author with a long string of best-sellers to his name, befriends Philip and commiserates with him. Although their friendship also includes some degree of Ike mentoring Philip, the problem is that Ike so sympathizes with Philip that he winds up feeding into Philip’s narcissism; this results in Philip feeling fully justified for his view of others, himself and the world in general. With Philip experiencing greater isolation once Ashley has thrown him out of their apartment, Ike invites him to stay at his country house for a while.
Ike suggests that Phillip take a job teaching creative writing at a nearby college; once Philip starts working there, however, he soon begins to develop the same set of problems all over again, but with a fresh set of people – he complains that neither the students nor the faculty like him very much. One of the other instructors that indeed does dislike him is Yvette (Joséphine de La Baume), also a young writer, who feels she is in competition with Philip. As they get to know each other, Yvette softens her view of him and they become romantically involved.
But when Philip’s naturally obnoxious behavior alienates Yvette also, will he finally learn his lesson?
Although “Listen Up Philip” is strongly recommended, it does come with an extremely severe caveat because this movie is definitely not for everyone. It carries with it some very funny but very caustic and – what some people may understandably think – is rather cruel humor. Simply put, Philip is not a very likeable character and there are certainly many people who have problems seeing a story about someone so bilious. So why the recommendation? The character of Philip is quite funny – albeit unintentionally – and thus is incredibly compelling to watch as he completely self-destructs.
From a technical perspective, it’s also an interesting film to watch because it very much has to it the look and feel of a motion picture straight out of the 1970’s. Starting with the style of the titles at its opening to the grainy quality of its appearance, it could have easily been made as an independent movie back in 1972 or so. This is because “Listen Up Philip” was shot using a Super-16mm camera, quite a bit of it being hand-held. One criticism of this is the over-reliance on close-ups – in fact, extreme close-ups, quite often. (With no zoom, some actors were reportedly slightly distracted by having the camera literally in their face)
Following the screening was a question and answer session with Schwartzman and writer/director Alex Ross Perry. A young filmmaker (this is only Perry’s third feature), Perry admitted to modeling the Ike Zimmerman character after author Philip Roth. Schwartzman said that one of the reasons why he was drawn to play the role of Philip was due to being impressed by the fact that the character pretty much just said whatever was on his mind and didn’t particularly care what others thought about him.