Anger rages in Philip as he awaits the publication of his second novel. When Philip’s idol Ike Zimmerman offers his isolated summer home as a refuge, he finally gets the peace and quiet to focus on his favorite subject: himself. (logline)
In Philip Roth’s 1979 novel “The Ghost Writer”- the first of his revered Zuckerman Bound series- young wildly ambitious protagonist Nathan Zuckerman is given the opportunity to spend a few days with the highly regarded and reclusive author E.I. Lonoff. The book details their conversations and the often surreal happenings at Lonoff’s country estate.
Any fan of Roth’s will find Alex Ross Perry’s Listen Up Philip of particular interest. Not only does it feature character’s reminiscent of Roth’s but it also features pictures of books throughout that are lovingly evocative of Roth’s distinctive covers. The visual homages are one of the many pleasures of Listen Up Philip, which evokes the best of Woody Allen (circa Husbands and Wives) and Noah Baumbach. We are even given a narrator (Eric Bogosian) that helps guide us through a story dense with dialogue in which the main character is rarely in touch with reality.
New Yorker Philip Lewis Friedman (Jason Schwarztman, never better) has just sold his second novel and has already mentally mapped out the seismic ripple effect this will have on the literary community. This gives him free reign to rip into his ex-girlfriend and a college buddy from his past. The high of disassociation agrees with the critical Philip and he sets out on a path of self-aggrandizing behavior. Philip quickly finds a Roth-ian mentor in Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce), who he stays with despite the obvious resentment of Zimmerman’s daughter (Krysten Ritter). Philip also accepts a teaching position at a prestigious school upstate despite having no experience and his effect on his students and co-workers is explored.
The most immediate victim of Philip’s cruelty and obliviousness is his long-suffering live-in girlfriend Ashley Kane (Elizabeth Moss, also excellent), who he gradually seperates from until the relationship is nullified. Listen Up Philip is very careful not to make Ashley someone who simply reacts to Phillip(as many other male-centric character pieces are guilty of) but rather as someone who has a distinct point of view and the film is not afraid to have him sit out for long stretches so that Ashley can live and breathe as the protagonist.
Alex Ross Perry has a lot of fun exploring a character obsessed with the idea of what a writer should be and playing that part to the hilt. He is also not afraid to explore the emotional wreckage it can cause to others. Shot on 16 MM film, this has a lacerating immediacy that is reminiscent of 70’s era Altman and tough to shake. Like the best satirical pitch-black comedies, this one is both explosively funny and painful to behold. Highly recommended.
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