After falling head over heels for Listen Up Philip back in October, it has not escaped from my mind. Just having seen Alex Ross Perry’s most recent effort, I felt compelled to go back and revisit his previous offering for the fourth time now. Besides the tremendous performances that he can always get out of his actors throughout all of his films, Perry’s screenplays are always masterful. While I do not find Philip to be the despicable character many seem to think of him as, I am amazed by how much Perry attaches us to him.
I see Philip as much more of a troubled individual than someone who is truly despicable. Compared to most of the people in New York City, which was recently named the most unfriendly city in America, he doesn’t stand out much. People like Philip are all throughout New York City. His character just doesn’t ring despicable to me. Perry, who is a noted New Yorker, does a masterful job investing us in Philip’s character. Credit is obviously due to Jason Schwartzman, who delivers what is undoubtedly his best performance here. His flawed relationship with Ashley (who is marvelously played by Elisabeth Moss) rings so true, and this is what Perry uses to create empathy for Philip, or at least it did for me.
With that being said, there is a detour in the narrative halfway through the film that does not work. We follow Ashley as she lives her life without Philip. I got the sense that Perry wanted us to sympathize with her. Perry doesn’t succeed in doing so. I never felt a strong connection to Ashley, even though Moss gives an excellent performance. Ashley has extreme animosity towards Philip; she blames him for the way her life is now. Through this detour in the narrative, Perry shows us the effects that narcissism has on one’s life. Perry bites off more than he can chew when he tries to make us sympathize with Ashley. He doesn’t do enough preliminary work at the beginning of the film with her character for me to ever have any feelings for her.
Perry uses Philip’s idol, Ike Zimmerman, as a way to show what Philip will turn into if he keeps up his narcissistic behavior. While Perry focuses much more on how Philip’s current behavior is affecting others, he does compare Ike and Philip throughout the course of the film. Philip is so unaware of his current state that he never apprehends that the path that he has chosen will keep pushing everyone away. What Perry says here on the subject of narcissism isn’t anything that new, but the way that he presents it is in such an unusual way that you can never take your eye off of the screen.