Listen Up Philip

The above retro-fonted, artfully faded but otherwise dull poster should tell you just about all you need to know about Listen Up Philip. If you had it in your hand while listening to nondescript dinner party jazz and waved it around really close to your eye then the comparison to the actual film would be complete.
It's at this point in the review where normally there'd be recap of the plot. The trouble is the plot is nonexistent, as is the character arc for the titular Philip, a burgeoning arrogant author with delusions of importance, played with usual baggy eyed, hirsute and hipster aplomb by Jason Schwartzman. Other nonexistent things include use of a tripod, empathy for anyone and a decent reason for the always wonderful Jonathan Pryce, playing an older, equally arrogant and pompous writer, to waste one of his best performances in years on this very disappointing, semi-naval gazing load of old crap.
Elisabeth Moss at least gets the thankless task of going from a quiet, mumbly, nonchalant, sour faced photographer girlfriend character, without a personality, to an equally quiet and mumbly but sometimes conflicted and occasionally smiley photographer ex girlfriend, fulfilling the bare minimal requirements for a character arc in a film since the alien in Alien.
To clarify the comments at the top of this review, the entire film is shot in a sort of autumnal brown filter the DP no doubt saw in an 80s Woody Allen movie, filmed entirely in erratic and, quite frankly lazy handheld and all at a distance about an inch and a half away from the actors faces. This, I am sure, was intended to get the obvious reaction from the audience of them screaming "keep the cocking camera still and for bastard's sake please stand the hell back!" I imagine that one of the oh-so-clever layers this film clearly thinks it has is one of audience frustration and participation.
Wes Anderson called he wants his titling idea back!
Occasionally and to fill in the irritating absence of dialogue, a Royal Tenenbaums style voice over would fill in vast swathes of what the characters were meant to be feeling. This was helpful because damned if I would've known what was going on half the time from the dialogue and the facial expressions alone. As the camera never stopped buzzing about the faces of the actors like an annoying wasp, we never got to get an establishing shot of where any of this was taking place or what the people's spacial relationship was to anybody at any point. While the voice over would sometimes fill in the blanks, there were parts that it and the dialogue just simply forgot to explain. This gave you the enjoyable, Where's Waldo, type task of guessing who people are, what they were doing and, most commonly, why.
This whole, almost 2hr long, training video to over come motion sickness, was scored with repetitive and endless jazz that seemed to drift under every scene to the point where tuning it out became relatively easy. I would occasionally think, as I chewed my fingers down to the bone in sheer mind numbing frustration and/or boredom, 'I wonder if the jazz is still going on?' and sure enough, if I retuned my ears to it's bland drone, there it was, ever present making the whole thing feel like one of those 'quit smoking' hypnotist videos that were popular in the 90s.
There's utterly punchable and then there's this guy
As if all of this technically incompetent and excessively clichéd filmmaking wasn't bad enough every single main, speaking character in the film seemed thoroughly unlikeable, self involved, arrogant, self pitying, whiny, incompetent, pompous and generally unfulfilled. As I haven't really clarified let me explain that two of the characters in this film, Schwartzman and Pryce, are respected, published authors and lecturers and Elizabeth Moss plays a photographer for which only good things happen. I am not sure what tweed jacketed, three day bearded, Brooklyn stoop this achingly hip director has no doubt been hanging out on but there's been a recession going on and a dearth of jobs around the place lately; why he thinks any of us should give two shakes of a lamb's penis what these wealthy upper middle class, bickering twats are up to, I have no idea.
Yes, she's French and depressed, that's art right? I am not kidding they even reference Mon Oncle in a scene!
When the film began, the cod Wes Anderson like attempts at brevity in the script and the enjoyable performances from Schwartzman and Pryce in particular, were enough to get me to keep watching. There is some creativity in the language patterns employed and some genuine, interesting humour in the interactions that I could see, for a moment, why the actors involved took the project on. There was also a short scene near the beginning where an actor acquaintance of mine from New York, Steven Boyer, showed up for an excellent, surprise appearance. However when it got to the 40 minute mark, nothing was happening and I still had over an hour to go, it became very painful to carry on and just 'eyes front/grit teeth' get to the end.
I don't remember this character in the film at all.
I recently saw St.Vincent with Bill Murray, another, so-called, indie dramedy that went absolutely nowhere. It was humorous enough, charming enough in places and acted with an eye on the Oscar but the script was all over the place. It was written like a series of rambling vignettes that, to add insult to injury, tacked on an utterly generic, implausible and 'all past transgressions forgiven' type ending we've seen a bazillion times. While I would never suggest another film take this sort of approach, I have to say, what could've possibly saved Listen Up Philip from descending into tedious masturbation would have been some sort of resolutions to the tenuous and irrelevant stories it deemed to set up. Oh and voice over man filling in the uninspiring rest of the characters lives at the end doesn't cut it!

The irony to end all hipster, soul patch stroking, jaunty hat wearing irony was Philip never did seem to ever listen up. Not that anyone told him anything worth listening to but, you know, I am sure that I just didn't understand the true deepness of the film. I am almost certain that somewhere the director, Alex Ross Perry, is laughing with some guy called Chad, who's probably wearing a frayed cotton scarf, retro pumps and has a big floppy fringe about how this isn't a film for the critics but for the people who brazenly and seemingly without any self awareness, call themselves artists loudly in restaurants that only serve quiche.

2 out of 5

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