Tuesday, December 16, 2014
Listen Up, Philip
In the interest of full disclosure, I ought to admit that I’ve been acquainted with this film’s writer/director, Alex Ross Perry, for longer than I can actually remember. That is to say, I met Mr. Perry when he worked as a clerk at the venerable, not to say legendary, multimedia emporium Mondo Kim’s on St. Mark’s Place, in the video section, and I visited said emporium quite frequently back in the day, and almost always after I’d gotten hammered at the nearby Grassroots Tavern. You get the idea. I’ve continued my acquaintance with the filmmaker in a non-hammered state of being, but we’re not super tight or anything. Cordially-friendly I think is the right term. I bring all this up not just in the interest of journalistic integrity but because it is rather likely that if “Listen Up Philip,” the distinctively funny and disconcerting new film by Alex, is your first exposure to his work, one question you might have on exiting is “What kind of person makes a movie like this?”
For one of the things that make “Listen Up Philip” so distinctive is the relentless unpleasantness of its lead character, young novelist Philip Lewis Friedman, played here with knuckle-bitten commitment by Jason Schwartzman. In the movie’s opening scene, Philip meets with an ex-girlfriend for lunch; he intends to give her the galleys of his latest novel, but when she shows up late, he browbeats her within an inch of her life. Having decided that abusiveness is personally liberating, he arranges a meet with an old college chum, who he abrasively condemns as a sellout. “What about our declaration of principles,” he whines, waving some paper in the guy’s face. “Remember this?” The punchline to the scene is that Philip’s erstwhile friend is in a wheelchair.