Cultivating Misery: ‘Listen Up Philip’ Review

listen up philip

April 28, 2022

This review may contain spoilers.

“Well I speak from experience when I say that it is horrible to be treated in a way that only points out how meaningless you are.” 

The title is apt because there couldn’t be a more deafened character than Phillip (Jason Schwartzman), where him just shutting up and listening to someone else was a moment I waited for, somewhat expecting him to grow into someone he was not currently—a moody self-obsessed asshole. We get some hint that maybe he wasn’t always this way. When he calls one of his ex girlfriends Nancy (Kate Lyn Sheil) she tells him that she isn’t interested in his bragging, and thinks that the person he was before his success would have made a good boyfriend; when he asks for a kiss, we see her run away, and as the film progresses we see why she was prudent in doing so. 

“You should have run after her,” Ike’s daughter Melanie (Krysten Ritter) tells him. To which Philip responds, no—because he knew she didn’t want him to. 

But I think his refusal to run after her is partially true. In the opening scene, we see Philip meet with another ex-girlfriend. The narrator makes a point to say that he hardly ever saw her without storming out. That’s exactly what he did this time—he charged her with not caring for him anymore, or ever being supportive of his writing.

Getting the last word and storming out made him feel good—a recurring feeling that both Philip and Ike (Johnathan Pryce) strive to manufacture to pet their own egos of having even one word and feeling over another. Apparently, being a good writer meant that they had to forego human vulnerability and then spend commit to spending the rest of their lives cultivating the ensuing misery that inevitably follows. 

Perry composes this film into a triptych, where we explore the lives of the two egotistic writers, Philip and Ike, with the balance of Ashley Kane (Elisabeth Moss). Looking at Ashley’s life was probably the most sobering of the film. She reminded me that everyone can climb out of a bad place of a broken heart with cleanliness and time. Perry juxtaposes her redemption with Philip’s.

They both become content with their lives and with themselves, except Philip’s growth is in his resolve to never be vulnerable again, and we catch him grinning in the closing scene—an ironic ending given he was never vulnerable, except maybe to the extent that his selfish habit allowed.

(READ MORE: People With Jobs Are Losers: ‘The Color Wheel’ Review)

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