It's something like a wash of sunlight, a soothing balm, when Listen Up Phillip reveals its hand as more than you think it's gonna be around its halfway point - when it opens up its windows and lets in some air, and you can breathe. Thing is up til that point you maybe don't even realize you hadn't been breathing - you were watching something engrossing and funny and harsh and sardonic and Jason Schwartzman was doing a very nice job up there so you were good with it, you were into it, even if you maybe kinda figured you knew where it was going, you'd seen this one before, the one about the writer who's a self-absorbed jerk who can't stop himself from saying something clever and cutting when he maybe should said something nice or hey, maybe nothing at all.
So you were laughing and it was good, fine really, although over there is Elisabeth Moss and she sure is good, isn't she? Jason Schwartzman, could you maybe shut up for a second, I wanna listen to Elisabeth Moss - she's doing that thing, that thing where her face is everything and you don't wanna look away, we all love that thing, and maybe Jason Schwartzman, as much fun as we're having with you, golly I'd like to see what Elisabeth and her great face could do if this was a movie that cared about the "girlfriend" part.
Only then, wham, sunlight! Listen Up Phillip cares about Elisabeth Moss and her face! And the "girlfriend" part is suddenly our everything, and we can breathe - the movie slides right off the track and the mood shifts and the entire world changes! And it's all so simple, this slide sideways, but you never ever see it happen, and it's just like wow, fireworks.
And after that everything's up for grabs - director Alex Ross Perry just scoops up all his characters in his arms and hugs them close; their awfulness, their sunlight, their cruel and kind and emotionally indifferent bursts of creativity and brilliance. Listen Up Phillip has room for listening to everybody, and in its storytelling verve and delightful indiscretions it lays bare just how the character of Phillip's inability to do the same, to have the same openness the movie surround him musters, is his possible future, gray-bearded and colossally drunk, staring right back at him.
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