'Listen Up Philip' Paints Grim Portrait of New York Living
European audiences shocked by an unromantic portrayal of the Big Apple
Alex Ross Perry’s Listen Up Philip had its international premiere at the 67th Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland this week. European audiences, used to seeing an idealistic, romantic view of New York in films, were shocked by the depiction of the city as a dark, competitive place whose characters are more interested in their own success than in any type of relationship with each other.
The film stars Jason Schwartzman as an infuriated young novelist sinking in career and girl problems, and Jonathan Pryce as a questionable mentor. They’re two miserable men who end up in the same places they started, uninterested in escaping their own grim realities. Elisabeth Moss plays Schwartman’s jaded live-in girlfriend and Krysten Ritter plays Pryce’s angry daughter. Tight up-close shots throughout the film reveal the lack of apartment space in the city's interiors.
At the press conference for the film, European journalists expressed their shock at this depiction of New York as a hostile and brutal city, a city they recognize as the cultural capital of the world. “The competition of living in a city where people are fighting against each other,” says director Alex Ross Perry, “that is exactly what New York feels like to me. There’s no shortage of people who are sickeningly repellant in their jealously and their hatred of anyone who does anything slightly more impressive than them.”
Perry also said that in New York the slightest thing can spawn jealousy. “It’s not like in Los Angeles where you’re making 100 million dollars or 10 thousand dollars. My experience of my 10 or 11 years in New York is that these little things make all the difference. One little book coming out can change somebody’s life, even if nobody ever reads it.”
But the director, who lives in Brooklyn, has no intentions of moving anytime soon. “I love it. I might live there for a long time, and I like calling it my home,” he says. “But I see it as an incredibly stressful and unpleasant place full of the worst people that could ever live anywhere. That’s kind of what I like about it, because the fun then becomes finding safety from them.”
Pryce’s character, Ike, memorably said in the film: “There’s a productive energy, but there’s not a creative energy.” The actor, who has been going to New York since the mid-seventies when he did his first play on Broadway, remembers the theater district as being very scary but also very visually exciting.
“Over the years I’ve gone there a lot. Both my sons studied art in New York,” says Pryce. “I’ve found myself [on] the drive from the airport, looking at the Manhattan skyline — in the past, I’d get very excited driving across that bridge. And now I’m going, oh s---, New York. It’s a real hard place to deal with, even just for a visit.”
Listen Up Philip, which premiered in Sundance, will also screen as part of the 52nd New York Film Festival. It will be released domestically by Tribeca Film in October.