There’s a small scene, late on, where one of Philip’s students is asking for a letter of recommendation, but Philip (well cast – played by Jason Schwartzman), in his half-arsed arrogance, stamps a few staples into a scrap of paper, hands it over and insists that that’s the best he can do.
A rare moment of amusement.
When dark, Indie comedies are done well, they can be little gems; when they’re not, they are long, drawn-out affairs.
Welcome to ‘Listen Up Philip’ (LUP).
On paper at least, this film really should work.
A self-absorbed writer refuses to promote his new novel believing it to be beneath him – which is a little ironic considering self-promotion is what he seems best at, much to the constant chargrin of those that pass in and out of his life.
Instead, he looks to satisfy his need for solace, artistic concentration and most importantly, personal prioritisation, by retreating to the country house of his new friend and mentor, Ike, (played nicely by Jonathan Pryce) for a large dose of ‘me time.’ Ike, constantly berated by his twenty-something daughter, appears to be the only person Philip has encountered, more self-indulgant and selfish than Philip himself.
Philip takes off and leaves behind him a bewildered girlfriend, struggling to figure out where she fits into his life.
She doesn’t. The term second fiddle springs to mind.
It’s a tale of a selfishness and the pursual of goals at the expense of everyone else, with little or no concern for the impact of such actions.
As I said, with the right script and a good idea for comic timing, the ingredients really are all there.
So why doesn’t it work?
Director Ross Perry has shot the entire thing on 16mm film, made use of a very mid-twentieth century, retro titles font and opted for a sultry jazz soundtrack as a backdrop. The use of a narrator linking us between the various scenes is an interesting touch, though it’s arguable whether it really works, or is even necessary for that matter.
It did bring to mind the overall ‘feel’ of two films from yesteryear; a 1950s/60s Disney offering called something like ‘The Bear and the Raccoon?’ – a heart-warming, narrated sentimental wildlife amble through the American countryside and Woody Allen’s early slapstick affair, ‘Take the money and run.’
LUP however has neither the charm of the former, nor the laughs of the latter.
Everything about LUP frustrates:
The annoying, hand-held, jittery camera work, the scarcity of actual humour throughout, overly-long focused attention on each of the film’s main characters – almost separate short films in themselves and at times feeling completely detatched from the film as a whole – and above all, the sheer damn self-indulgence of it all.
Yet, through all of this, there is something hidden in here which I suspect will, in time, win LUP a bit of a cult following. Just a hunch.
It’s not enough though to salvage what is a painfully long, meandering, wasted opportunity.