DIR/WRI: Alex Ross Perry • PRO: Joshua Blum, Toby Halbrooks, James M. Johnston, David Lowery, Katie Stern • DOP: Sean Price Williams • ED: Robert Greene • MUS: Keegan DeWitt • DES: Scott Kuzio • CAST: Jason Schwartzman, Elisabeth Moss, Jonathan Pryce
This is the third full-length feature from young director Alex Ross Perry, and follows 2009’s Impolex and 2011’s The Color Wheel.
It has been promoted as Woody Allen meets Wes Anderson, and while I can see where there are points of comparison to be made, I think Inside LLewyn Davis is a more accurate frame of reference. Like the Coen brothers, Perry takes a detached look at his central characters and isn’t afraid to portray them in all their selfishness and self-obsessedness. The action occurs initially in a softly lit, slightly nostalgic and bohemian New York, where the indie/hipster scene is parodied through an abundance of typewriters and vinyl, and characters use old-fashioned methods of communication, letters instead of texts or emails.
Jason Schwartzmann stars as Philip Lewis Friedman, a writer whose debut novel, Join the Sweet Parade, has been released to some critical acclaim, leaving him with a massive ego coupled with fear and insecurity about his second novel. Jonathan Pryce plays Ike Zimmerman, an older, successful, famous author who offers Philip the use of his country house to write in.
Zimmerman is a thinly veiled Philip Roth character – the clues abound in choice of names (there’s a similarity between the name Ike Zimmerman and Roth’s character of Nathan Zuckerman, with whom he closely identified, whilst Zimmerman functions as an older version of Philip within the narrative).
Listen Up Philip parodies its oeuvre, the working lives of artists and the impact the creative life can have on those nearest and dearest. None of the characters are particularly likeable, indeed, within the film Philip is referred to as ‘a cruel and miserable person’. When he leaves his girlfriend to take up residence at Zimmerman’s house, he says to his photographer girlfriend Ashley (brilliantly played by Elizabeth Moss) ‘I hope this will be good for us, but especially for me.’
Like Llewyn Davis, Philip is an artistic young man who makes poor decisions and hurts those nearest and dearest. His self-obsession is cringe-worthy, in a film where none of the characters are exactly paragons of virtue. The film is literary in nature – its subject matter, its characters and its use of an omniscient narrator (Eric Bogosian) add to the effect of a fictionalised life.
The hand-held cinematography is interesting as is the soft-focus bohemian view of New York. The idea of a creator’s artifice is all over the film, we are getting everything through a lens, both the camera lens and the lens of an author’s eye, a fictionalised reality.
Critical opinion has been divided about this film, with some feeling that the indie/ hipster creative type scene has been done to death already. Personally, I enjoyed it and I think it bodes well for Perry’s career. I recommend you see it yourself and make up your own mind.
Listen Up Philip is released 5th June 2015