Listen Up Philip

To a certain eye, the title of Alex Ross Perry’s new movie seems to demand punctuation. A comma before “Philip” would make sense, or maybe even a hyphen between “Listen” and “Up,” like it’s an ironic nickname for the surly protagonist, who tends not to be what you’d call a great listener. Possibly the best on-screen alter ego Perry could ever hope for, Jason Schwartzman owns the role of a narcissistic young author in the early stages of soul-poisoning success. It’s a variation on familiar Schwartzman stuff, but with the special grade of fearlessness for which Perry, who also made The Color Wheel, has become a great specialist. Liberally peppered with caustic social observation, as when he tries on a doting young woman’s chunky glasses and says, “Oh yeah, we have the exact same affectation,” Listen Up Philip nails the ostensible paradox of a guy who’s so self-interested and attention-dependent that he can’t stand to promote his own work. Philip has a photographer girlfriend, played by Elisabeth Moss, who’s growing out of him; and an idol and mentor, played by Jonathan Pryce, who offers not just tutelage in self-aware emotional violence but also a summer retreat from the noise of New York City. As is de rigueur for witty literary movies, this one favors retro aesthetics, typified by a series of fondly designed book covers and an utter lack of contemporary trappings. This non-brave, non-new world emphasizes Perry’s understanding that the lining of every bloated ego is insecurity, and Listen Up Philip works not just as comedy but also as tragedy.