Philip is a by no means a failed writer – his first book proved immensely popular – and he is about to release his second. He feels alienated from other people but it is obvious that he has created this isolation for himself by acting as an emotionless robot who disregards the feelings of others rather than be hurt himself. Although Philip has a string of ex-girlfriends and lives with his photographer partner of two years, Ashley (Elizabeth Moss), it never quite clear what attracted her to him in the first place – or what attracted any of his girlfriends to him – so affection-less he is in his actions.
It becomes interesting when he meets Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce), an older writer who is basically Philip in thirty years time, and whose best selling titles include “Madness and Women”. The older man suggests that Philip stay with him at his country house, as “the city is good for creativity but not good for productivity”. He accepts the offer and takes a job at a local University before even considering Ashley and their relationship. Basically, he has chosen to abandon his girlfriend for an older version of himself.
Something very fresh within Listen Up Philip is how the point of view switches between Philip, Ashley and Zimmerman. This provides a deeper understanding of these characters that can only be assessed when they are alone rather than interacting with each other. The supporting cast are great and all the characters – including Constance Ritter as Zimmerman’s daughter – are extremely relatable. Moss, for example, is particularly affecting as the young woman who just wants affection from her self-absorbed partner, a man who she has always supported and received little from in return.
Although the film has a Stranger then Fiction quality – another film about a writer with an off camera narrator – there is also a touch of Wes Anderson about Listen Up Philip. This is largely due to Anderson stalwart Schwartzman – Philip could almost be a sadistic older Rushmore – and this time enhanced by the off camera narration of Eric Bogosian. The film feels very intimate, something largely helped by the hand-held, often shaky, camerawork and 16mm print and everything works to add a greater intimacy to Philip’s life: a life that we may enjoy looking into and a character that we may enjoy watching but, truthfully, a person that we would hate to be compared to ourselves.