Viennale 2014 – Day 11: Listen Up Philip

Listen Up PhilipListen Up Philip
USA 2014
Written by Alex Ross Perry
Directed by Alex Ross Perry

“Listen Up Philip” is in line with recent movies about obnoxious people, like (and I’m mentioning those two simply because they were the first to come to mind) “Greenberg” and “Young Adult”; however, due to a couple of flaws, it doesn’t quite play in the same league. Which also means, however, that if you’ve got a problem if your main character is a vile, self-centered asshole who’s totally oblivious to his own shortcomings, this is probably not the movie for you.

What I liked most about the movie is that despite his flaws, his arrogance and his unpleasantness, Philip still has a certain charm that stems mostly from the fact that he’s some sort of wish-fulfilment for the viewer. Not that I’d actually want to be like him, but there’s something alluring about a guy who simply speaks his mind, no matter what others may think about it. Most of us, I guess, tend to keep things to ourselves for whatever reason – maybe because we don’t want to hurt the other person, or we fear rejection, or to lose our jobs, or whatever. Philip simply doesn’t give a shit, and that definitely has a certain appeal. I also thought that the dialogue was well written (and performed); whenever two people talked to each other, the movie came to life. Unfortunately, there repeatedly are longer stretches where this is not the case, and which are mostly accompanied by a voice over commentary that got annoying astonishingly fast.

I also did not care at all for the shaky cam, which was especially bad at the beginning (the scene with the passersby). I already don’t like that style in action scenes (where one could at least argue that they have a certain purpose, namely to make the scene more dynamic. This “one” wouldn’t be me, but on an objective level, I get the point), but here it’s totally unwarranted and unnecessary IMHO. Plus, I’m not quite sure what to make of the longer stretches where the attention drifts away from Philip and towards the people in his life, like Ashley and Ike. On the one hand: The more Elisabeth Moss and Jonathan Pryce, the better (which is not meant to slam Jason Schwartzman, who also does some nice work here). It also fleshed out their (otherwise rather one-note) characters considerably. On the other hand, the movie seemed to lose its focus during those scenes. However, the performances ranged from very good to great, and I loved the ending, which was also very much in line with, for example, the aforementioned “Young Adult”, and which offered a different kind of “what happened afterwards”-epilogue. Still, despite a couple of nice individual scenes, a great ending and the mostly superb dialogue, “Listen Up Philip” didn’t quite rise above mediocrity for me.


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