By Daniel Barnes
*Opening today at the Roxie Theatre in San Francisco and the Rialto Cinemas Elmwood in Berkeley.
With the neophyte novelist Philip Lewis Friedman, a self-loathing narcissist driven to new heights of anhedonia and boarish behavior by his extremely minor notability, writer-director Alex Ross Perry has 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 (and, I would assume, gut-level personal), 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, yet one that 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 hilarious and scabrous and strangely touching revelation of airborne misery and brittleness, and 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. And his delivery of the line “Here’s a piece of paper with some staples in it,” a curt summation of Philip’s lack of interest in the feelings and desires of other people, made me laugh/wince harder than any other movie moment this year.