I reviewed Listen Up Philip for Heeb Magazine. Initially I wanted to pan the film, but I sat down to re-watch it and discovered how special it actually is. It seems like a chronicle of a few horrible people, but actually it’s a film about how we deal with success.
One thing that irked me on first viewing was the film’s use of voice over. As I mention in my review, this is a knee-jerk reaction. Omniscient narrators are usually a lazy crutch used by writers who can’t build a complex character and structure a narrative at the same time. But that was an unfair assessment. Writer/director Alex Ross Perry’s narrator is there to streamline the narrative, not fix it. We meet our characters in situ and jump right into the meat of their lives. It makes the film almost uncomfortably fast-paced.
And so I came around on this one. I truly love Elisabeth Moss’s performance, though that may be linked to the fact that I feel the closest connection to Ashley, the character she portrays. She also happens to be the only character whose life seems better off by the end of the film, though that’s more a matter of opinion than fact. As I wrote for Heeb, the choice to prefer Ashley “is a personal one though, perhaps linked to my own views of success and artistic struggle.”
That’s the heart of what makes Listen Up Philip such a special work. It offers insight on success (and life) in a mature and introspective manner. I’m glad I didn’t dismiss it because I don’t like omniscient narrators (but generally I still don’t).