It’s rather unusual for movies these days to delve into the mind of a single character and pick apart his or her idiosyncrasies, motives, hopes and dreams. With several detective TV shows dominating the medium, as well as a few superbly insightful female-centered shows, character-based storytelling has found its niche in the episodic format. It’s easier that way. Writers can utilize incremental character evolution, directors are free to develop the show’s aesthetic and fans can share their feedback with the networks (in addition to extensive ratings data). Movies, on the other hand, when trying to make the character(s) the focal point, must depend on the strength of their interior world.

Listen Up Philip

Sailor Bear Productions

“Listen Up Philip” is director Alex Ross Perry’s third film, and it arrives as one of the year’s first – and most promising – character-based films. Philip (Jason Schwartzman, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”) is a self-absorbed writer awaiting the publication of his second novel. He is very sure of himself and his work, and everyone he encounters knows this about him (if they didn’t already). But as his popularity grows, and as the professional/social/spiritual demands of his work increasingly fog his mind, he becomes angrier and more bitter, until he nearly destroys the few relationships he has with people. When his literary idol Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce, “Pirates of the Caribbean”) invites him to spend some time away from the frantic rush of things, Philip forces himself to look at who he’s become and determine where he’d like to go – both as a writer and as a human being.

It’s no coincidence that Perry’s writing style hearkens back to that of Phillip Roth, Jerry Lewis and Thomas Pynchon. Perry is a lifelong student of those authors, and a dedicated fan who has spent countless hours poring over their methods. Their same genuine, ordinary tone and bittersweet sense of reality are essentially transposed into “Listen Up Philip”, as the characters banter with honesty, crack witticisms frequently and express an inner melancholy that never quite festers into despair. This film looks to be every bit as smart, engaging and funny as the people who produced it.

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