Philip Lewis Friedman (Jason Schwartzman) is the type of character that my patience wears thin for. It’s for a couple of reasons. He’s the type of character that massively populated Noah Baumbach films before he thankfully discovered Greta Gerwig and got some optimism and looseness breathed into his work. They’re pretty much a grown up Max Fischer – unrelentingly narcissistic, negative, and completely enthralled by their own sense of genius, with no sense of self-consciousness or regard for another person. They’re purely tiresome to watch, because even though they’re a completely detestable person, they continue to be successful. In short, they’re bestowed with the title of being a flawed yet loveable asshole and genius that everyone keeps coming back to, because they’re a man.
It annoys me the most how Philip is the type of person that gets work as a writer, from personality traits a woman would be never be pardoned of and still declared a literary genius. He’s a character that can only be a man. Alex Ross Perry’s film is largely let down by its positioning of Philip as a successful guy who somehow keeps attracting praise and admirers. His unrelenting negativity and contempt for everyone except himself makes every conversation feel like it goes for ten times longer than it needs to, an endless cycle that makes one desperately wish that Philip would be taken down a peg.
What prevents Listen Up Philip from being a complete wash, however, is the moments where it allows itself to become a satire of such a personality and have a character hit back with how truly terrible he is. The narration becomes perfectly self-conscious, a play on the narcissistic interior thoughts on Philip, and how he views his every day life as being some kind of grand literary character. It’s also in these moments that the truly great performance from Elisabeth Moss, who’s given the most rounded role of the female cast members, is allowed to shine. As she with frustration and pain calls Philip out on his bullshit he subjects everyone to, you can’t help but wish this is what the rest of film was. It wouldn’t be a portrait of a sadly true stereotype that occasionally pokes fun at it, instead it would be a worthy take down of such a persona.
Listen Up Philip is on DVD now via Madman