The film focuses on the titular Philip, an utter jackass of an author in the process of releasing his second book, as well as his relationships with his girlfriend and an older author who becomes a mentor for him. I suspect that much of the consternation around the film comes from the fact that the character of Philip is such an irredeemable jerk, which does make him not the most pleasant presence to be in for much of the film’s running time. The most successful aspects of Listen up Philip for me were those that focussed in on the art and pretensions of writing. At times it is a portrait of the necessary struggle, arrogance and ego of being a great artist. Or perhaps just an artist of any description. In addition, the funniest moments are not really the attempted out and out comedy ones, but rather the skewering of literary conventions and those that seek to uphold them. There is some really interesting and though provoking moments around these notions as Philip prepares to promote his book. But the sections of the film based on his personal relationships with those around him are far less interesting and unfortunately they seem to take up a fair chunk of the film.
Some of the filmmaking, as well as the characters of the film, slip into a Noah Baumbach hipster realm. There is a somewhat meta voiceover that falls into this realm, functioning somewhat like the narrative voice of a novel. It is a little distracting though, not least because I am almost certain that it is provided by the same person who does the voiceover in Anchorman (2004). Come to think of it, even what is being said is not too dissimilar as in that film, though deployed to different ends. There is a self-knowingness to the dialogue as well which, and not just because of the presence of Jason Schwartzman, recalls the work of Wes Anderson. This dialogue never really frustrates in and of itself, but it can get tiresome during the more character heavy sequences of the film. Even though you hate him, there is a quotable nature to some of the dry and acerbic zingers that Philip comes out with throughout the film. You will hate him though. As a character he is not at all charming and treats those around him terribly. Schwartzman imbues him with the air of superiority of someone you will no doubt recall if you attended uni – definitely philosophy or English lit classes are required to have a Philip or two – but dialled up to 11. Similarly, he seems unable to comprehend whatsoever that the way he treats those around him is unacceptable, even if he does view himself as a great artist.
Verdict: At its best, Listen Up Philip is a pretty fun yet very literate and smart film. The more standard relationship moments are less than engaging. When it focuses on the infuriating Philip and his engagement with the literary world though, it is more of a winner. Stubby of Reschs