By Daniel Barnes
With the neophyte novelist Philip Lewis Friedman, a self-loathing narcissist driven to new levels of boorish behavior by his extremely minor notability, writer-director Alex Ross Perry created a neurotic asshole for the ages. He makes Ben Stiller of Greenberg look like the mensch neighbor from The Apartment. Philip is a character so rich and complex and loathsome and identifiable that you feel Perry could return to him periodically over the years, like a Rabbit Angstrom or a Nathan Zuckerman.
Perry made his bones with the 2011 festival sleeper The Color Wheel, a film he shot on 16mm black-and-white for about eleven cents. However, that debut arrived with a fully formed artistic sensibility and a unique mastery of language. Listen Up Philip takes that mastery to another level, even as Perry uses it to create a canyon of disconnect between words and meaning, between self-image and self. There is a lot of talk about misunderstanding and misdirection here, and a constant sense that rage, lust, admiration, and energy are all pointed at the wrong person. Even a sense of self is ill-defined and illusory. “Read an article about me. I’m ‘self-deprecating,'” deadpans a writer who later commits suicide.
As Philip, Jason Schwartzman is flat-out brilliant, a scabrous and strangely touching revelation of airborne misery and brittleness. He delivers some of the most amazing and unexpected line readings I’ve ever heard. I could write an entire essay about the way that Schwartzman pronounces “shooting guns,” as though a gun that shoots was a particular type of gun different from all other guns. Meanwhile, Schwartzman’s delivery of “Here’s a piece of paper with some staples in it” encapsulates Philip’s disinterest in the feelings and desires of other people. It made me laugh and wince harder than any other movie moment this year.