There are certain actors out there who have forged successful careers for themselves off the back, primarily, of their own, distinct affability. The likes of Seth Rogen, Vince Vaughn – rarely do you see them try their hand at a more nuanced, deeper role – but it’s not always a problem, because we’re drawn to their charisma, and happy to indulge in their undemanding brand of familiar cinema. As consumers it’s that comfortability which we crave at times – but in many cases, it’s the features that depict reprehensible, unlikeable figures which make for a far more indelible cinematic experience.
Just like Inside Llewyn Davis, there’s an oddly enticing element that derives from witnessing screen characters who are seemingly self-absorbed, deplorable individuals, who, whether we like to admit it or not, we can see shades of ourselves in – characters who represent our lesser halves, the idiosyncrasies and personality traits we possess but want to ignore. In the instance of Listen Up Philip, that character is Philip – played by Jason Schwartzman, a remarkable entry point into the world depicted by filmmaker Alex Ross Perry.
Philip is an acclaimed author, caught up in a cloud of self-importance; he awaits the publication of his eagerly anticipated second novel, taking up the majority of his thoughts, and taking him away from his relationship with the beleaguered photographer Ashley (Elisabeth Moss). Feeling as though he needs to connect with somebody else on an intellectual level who may just ‘understand’ him, he begins to spend time with one of his idols: the venerable writer Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce) – two men who need the company of others to think solely about themselves.
There’s almost something perverse in how we get such a kick from the protagonist’s loneliness, while feeling a sense of pity in the process, being a character study that is provocative and nuanced. Philip has a facade that points towards a confident, content man – but inside he’s deeply troubled. The same applies for his idol, Ike, who we meet through the rose-tinted glasses of Philip, who revers the author. But again, the more we get to know him, we realise that he too isn’t what he seems to be: far away from the carefree, satisfied persona that is alluded to. Nonetheless, when dealing with protagonists of this ilk, it can work both ways – as for all of the layers to their demeanour we can take joy from disliking; what also transpires is a cold, somewhat shallow piece of cinema that is deprived of a warmth or congeniality, and allowing the viewer nobody to root for; nothing to invest in.
There is a self-indulgence prevalent which can be likened to Woody Allen productions, particularly in how there’s a somewhat meta take on the creatively inclined – and for all of the positives that exist in Listen Up Philip, it’s just lacking that sense of enchantment that illuminates the aforementioned director’s work.