Listen Up Philip

 

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Alex Ross Perry takes a bizarre concept – of sort of adapting Philip Roth’s The Ghost Writer – and milks it to death.

 
Listen Up Philip
Joséphine de La Baume and Jason Schwartzman
 

The New York indie filmmaker Alex Ross Perry is nothing if not experimental. Here, he attempts to distil the essence of a Philip Roth novel and unleash it onto the cinema screen. One could also take a painting by Kandinsky or Picasso and turn it into a radio play. The trouble with Listen Up Philip, then, is that it never escapes its self-conscious novelty. The hand-held camerawork is jumpy (irritatingly so), the framing claustrophobically tight and the jazzy score invasive.

 

We then have the protagonist of Philip Lewis Friedman (Jason Schwartzman), an obnoxious, arrogant writer who speaks his mind to the displeasure of all around him. In short, he is exasperating – just like the film. However, his intellectual candour appeals to the thick-skinned pomposity of Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce), a celebrated novelist who believes that Philip has what it takes to follow in his footsteps. Zimmerman, whose noteworthy titles include Ample Profanity, Madness & Women, Necessity Never Rests and Too Much Everything, invites Philip to stay with him in his secluded abode in upstate New York. The city, he tells his protégé, is a good place for creativity but not for productivity. And so the two titans of hauteur bed down together and scratch their respective egos.

 

But Perry, adopting the literary device of William Gaddis’ 1955 novel The Recognitions, doesn’t stop there: he also dares to drop Philip half way through the movie to focus on the writer’s girlfriend, Ashley (Elisabeth Moss), as she adapts to life without him. For those familiar with the oeuvre of Roth and Gaddis and their ilk, all this is probably a riot – but it’s also outrageously self-indulgent. One can never forget for an instant that Alex Ross Perry is at the wheel of his own movie, as he constantly nudges us with his indie effects and arty allusions. But he has rustled up an articulate screenplay and has secured excellent performances from his cast, particularly Jonathan Pryce as the delightfully self-inflated Zimmerman (“I’m not successful, I’m notable,” he observes).

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Jason Schwartzman, Elisabeth Moss, Krysten Ritter, Joséphine de La Baume, Jonathan Pryce, Eric Bogosian, Jess Weixler, Keith Poulson, Flo Ankah.

 

Dir Alex Ross Perry, Pro James M. Johnston, Toby Halbrooks, David Lowery, Katie Stern and Joshua Blum, Screenplay Alex Ross Perry, Ph Sean Price Williams, Pro Des Scott Kuzio, Ed Robert Greene, Music Keegan DeWitt, Costumes Amanda Ford.

 

Faliro House Productions/Sailor Bear Productions/Washington Square Films-Eureka Entertainment.

109 mins. USA/Greece. 2014. Rel: 5 June 2015. Cert. 15.