Listen Up, Philip, 2014
dir. Alex Ross Perry
Usually when I’m writing these reviews, I know how many stars I’ll give it and what I thought of the film being reviewed. Well, dear reader, this is not the case here. As I am writing, the star-space is blank, as are my thoughts on this not-really-that-thought-provoking feature. I know the film wants me to think things and to have realisations about our arrogant society or whatever. I want to think these things. But all I could think was how much of an asshole they made Jonathan Pryce, and gosh I hope he’s not like that in real life.
This really did feel like a Woody Allen film directed by Noah Baumbach (some reviews said that about While We’re Young, which is actually Baumbach’s film, but I think that applies to this particular non-Baumbach film even more to be quite honest.) But it also had a narration very similar to The Royal Tenenbaums, so I don’t really know what it was going for. Usually I enjoy narrations, when they have a purpose and consistency, but they were all over the place here, introducing stories, showing up, explaining what happens in the future, and the story itself (if I can even call it that?) was just as scrambled, going from Philip to Ashley to Ike, and glancing over Melanie and Yvette in a careless way. I don’t know if the film meant to be misogynistic of if it was a reflection on Zimmerman’s own misogyny (which is staggeringly upsetting), but it still feels uncomfortable to witness, not in a good, interesting way, like watching Alvy’s and Annie’s relationship unfold in Annie Hall, or basically everything in Manhattan, or the horrible, horrible family dynamics in The Squid and the Whale. And I know that I’m focusing mainly on Ike Zimmerman’s character in this particular analysis, but that’s what was most memorable to me. Philip, the titular character, sort of falls by the wayside as a vehicle into these other stories, and that’s okay because he’s an obnoxious prick anyway, but Zimmerman’s story is just so blah. It’s just him being mean and discontented and irritating and smug.
Then we go to Ashley’s story, which is sort of more interesting? Except she mopes for too long for this guy she obviously doesn’t like, and there’s a cat, who steals the show, and then she travels to visit her… sister? I think it’s her sister, but they never say it in the film, and this is one of those times where a little bit of exposition is okay. Because whenever the story is on Ashley she has a few flashbacks that make no sense, about her relationship with Philip, a guy she doesn’t like. Again, I’m sure the film is trying to say something there, I’m just not getting what that is.
Anyway, something else that is very Allen-y about it is the score, which is sort of jazz-y, very reminiscent of his 70s-80s films actually. It’s sort of playful, in the background, and I really enjoyed how the entire film is sort of timeless. There’s definitely a set time period, because they talk about Zimmerman’s published books from the 70s and 80s as being way in the past, but they never use mobile phones or computers, and there are typewriters and turntables everywhere, which is very Woody Allen-y, I’d say. And there’s also that sense of nostagic yearning, which resembles a lot of the atmosphere in Wes Anderson films. Even the way it was shot reminded me of Harold and Maude.
All that means is, while it’s a nice-looking film, it looks like a lot of other stuff, and lacks any self-identity, which is not great when you’re trying to break into the indie genre, home of auteurs. And while Perry certainly has the potential to go there as a writer-director, and I don’t know much about his other work to comment on his career, I’d say that writing about writers is just not something you should think about if you don’t have something to say, because we all know writers can be arrogant and narcissistic and self-centred, so if you’re not going to add anything to the discussion, why bother?
This film felt very much like a why bother? sort of picture, which is a shame because I loved the trailer and thought it was very promising, but unfortunately we’ve all seen the Asshole Writer Cares More About Self Than Rest of World many many times before (including in The Squid and the Whale, by the way) and it’s just not cute anymore.
review by Mariana Duarte