Lights, Camera, Action! | Listen Up Philip (DVD Movie Review)

By Freda Cooper 29.07.2015

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Listen Up Philip (UK Rating: 15)

There's nothing new about grumpy old men, but in Listen Up Philip, released on DVD this week, Director and Writer Alex Ross Perry has come up with a variation on the theme - a grumpy young man, and he clearly likes a challenge, as well. There's no other explanation for a film billing itself as a comedy that has a central character that is so seriously hard to like. Ahead of coverage in this week's Talking Pictures podcast, Freda delivers the final verdict in this Lights, Camera, Action! review.
Image for Lights, Camera, Action! | Listen Up Philip (DVD Movie Review)

Philip (Jason Schwartzman) is an author who is convinced he is on his way up and it is only a matter of time before he makes it big, yet, although his second novel is about to be published, he is not celebrating. Instead, he has backed out of a publicity tour, his relationship with his live-in girlfriend Ashley (Elizabeth Moss) is about to fall apart, and he can't stand living in the city anymore. A way out arrives in the form of his literary idol, Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce), who invites him to stay at his country retreat, but it's only temporary, and the real world soon starts to beckon…

How Philip manages to create any characters in his books is open to question. Not only is he rude and arrogant, his favourite subject is himself. Even when he starts dating a new girlfriend - and women seem to find him inexplicably attractive - that selfish streak comes to the fore. Admittedly, he does manage to admit that he doesn't treat the women in his life very well, but he still has enough arrogance to expect his exes to take him back every time, and they do - until Ashley sticks to her guns. His selfishness isn't just confined to personal relationships, though, as a top journalist is going to interview him but dies suddenly and Philip is sorry, but only because he wasn't the subject of the journalist's last interview. As he observes, "…they're really hard to get…"

There's one person who understands this 21st Century misanthrope, however, and that Philip's idol, Zimmerman. The younger man hangs on his every word and even seeks out his company. Why? They are remarkably similar, mirror images even, that's why - bearded, self-obsessed misogynists. There is, thankfully, one point of difference and that is the twinkle in Zimmerman's eye, although his daughter has enough clarity of vision of her own not to be taken in by it. She has her father completely sussed, which is why he constantly describes her as a "pain in the *ss."

Laugh out loud moments aren't on the agenda here, with the film being much more wry, subtle, tart and, at times, downright cruel. It also has the feel of having been written by an older man, somebody looking back at his younger life with more than a little ruefulness, yet not complete regret. Alex Ross Perry is just 31 later this year, though - clearly an old head on young shoulders. Nonetheless, he gets consistently good performances from his cast, with Jonathan Pryce especially good as Ike. Morecambe and Wise fans might recognise that, in one scene when he's had a few to drink, he performs their notorious "two old men sitting in deck chairs" routine. It will be lost on American audiences, yet he's playing an American himself!

Rated 6 out of 10


Listen Up Philip just makes it over the line as a comedy with its irony, sarcasm, and the occasional touch of wince-making bad taste, and while the eponymous Philip is almost impossible to like, the acting is much more appealing, with its quality cast all painting clear portraits of their characters. As a director, Alex Ross Perry has a maturity beyond his years, which means that, despite Philip, there's always enough in the film to hold the audience's attention.

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