Take a Shot: for each arrogant character moment
Take a Drink: whenever a character does
Take a Shot: whenever the narration comes up.
By: Matt Conway (Three Beers) –
From his great debut as Max Fischer in Rushmore, Jason Schwartzman has consistently been one of the most eccentric and talented character actors around. After Rushmore’s great success, Schwartzman quickly established himself as one of Wes Anderson’s go-to actors. From a great starring performance in The Darjeeling Limited, to fun supporting roles in The Fantastic Mr. Fox and Moonrise Kingdom, he brings the same kind of offbeat, fun energy that creates for a lot of great comedy to every role.
Yet, it seems that Schwatzman has been pigeonholed into these roles, not getting very much opportunity to stretch himself. Aside from his thankless role in Marie Antoinette, Schwartzman has mainly been that same offbeat character that he is in Anderson’s films. Personally, though, I feel that Schwartzman has always shown potential to do more, as he is an overall very charismatic actor who has shown some range in films like Rushmore. Schwartzman’s latest Listen Up Philip is his first major dramatic role in quite some time, and despite its flaws it’s an overall impactful flick.
Listen Up Philip follows Philip, a self-absorbed novelist whose life is falling apart. His relationship with girlfriend Ashley is also falling apart, and he begins to lose interest in marketing his new novel. He soon finds his escape, spending a few weeks with famous novelist Ike (Jonathan Pryce) in an effort to find himself.
For his first major dramatic role, Schwartzman owns the role as Philip. Here, Schwartzman gets to play off the stereotype he usually plays, while adding heaps of cynicism and more realism. From his first moment on screen to his last, Schwartzman disappears into this endlessly fascinating character, whose arrogance just keeps getting him into trouble. His character develops some great depth throughout the film, with even a few small mannerisms allowing the audience to learn more about him.
The supporting cast is also quite good. Elisabeth Moss shined earlier this year in The One I Love, and continues to do good work here. As Ashley, she posses as a good contrast to Phillip, while also having quite a bit of depth herself. Stealing quite a few scenes as well is Jonathan Pryce, who seems to made a career playing bad guys. In a way, he continues that, playing the equally arrogant Ike Zimmerman. Both he and Schwartzman have great chemistry together, and share some of the film’s best moments.
Behind the camera is Alex Ross Perry, who directed 2011’s offbeat The Color Wheel. Here, Perry really shines, directing the film with quite a bit of poise and style. Listen Up Phillip is reflective of a lot of different styles, having the look and feel of a 70’s film. However, unlike last month’s The Longest Week, which failed to develop its own identity through different styles, Listen Up Philip has a very distinct identity. Perry establishes it with some great narration, which makes Philips’ life feel more and more like the novels he is writing.
Listen Up Phillip is also one of the coldest, more cynical films in quite some time, which plays into the film’s hand quite well. Its chilly nature is very much reflective of the characters, who all in their own way have lost their way along the road. The cold look at these characters leads to a lot of interesting commentary and observations, especially of Philip. The uncompromising look into Philip as a person is endlessly fascinating.
The film is also quite funny in a very dry way. As Philip, Jason Schwartzman revels in the arrogance of his character, leading to a lot of great mean-spirited comments that are a riot. The more of a dick Philip becomes, the more Schwartzman gets a chance to sneak in a few surprisingly hardy laughs.
Sometimes, though, Philip’s arrogance can be a bit of a chore to watch.While there are some great moments of development for Philip as a character, most of that comes more towards the finale of the film. Until then, his character’s arrogance at times feels overwhelming, as it’s the same note being played over and over again until the character becomes fully-realized later on.
Listen Up Philip also features quite a few dry stretches. The film is about 110 minutes long, and while it runs at a smooth pace, it has a middle section that feels rather uneventful. Every scene in a movie should be adding to the film’s overall goals and themes, but there seems to be quite a few pointless moments in the film that did not add up to much.
Perhaps the biggest issue with Listen Up Philip is that the characters outside of Philip are not nearly as interesting. Both Ashley and Ike have quite a few sections of the film where their characters get a good deal of backstory to explain who they are and why they act the way they do. The backstory is solid, but their character moments as a whole are not as interesting as most of the scenes with Philip. If this film was just two hours about Philip and added even more backstory for him, perhaps it could have been a more meaningful portrait.
As it stands, Listen Up Philip is a worthwhile art film, that is either a funny drama or the bleaklest comedy in quite some time. Jason Schwartzman truly shines, and I hope this film earns him more opportunities.