I think that very few things are worse than London in the summer and that one of them is a wretched cold in London in the summer. Now, I am not sure whether the past week should righteously qualify as 'summer' here, for the days oscillated between 12C (Monday, I put the heating on) and 26C (Friday, I put the air con on), suffice to say that I tried, and failed, to 'dress for the weather' because... what was the weather doing anyway? I've experienced low-level cloud and the look of October many times in this fair city, only to realise that, actually, it's 72% humidity out there and 22C at 8:45am. Leave the scarf at home. Today has been overcast and cold and so I've spent the day in bed, reading, watching and writing.
I've read the rather wonderful Shopgirl by Steve Martin (you may recall the movie in which he also stars opposite Claire Danes, but the book is rather superior, as is often the case) and I've found the much-anticipated and just-come-out Listen Up Philip online (legally, I hasten to add, it's on YouTube).
As you can imagine I was enormously intrigued by the premise of this movie, for at its core sits a writer, Philip Lewis, who wrestles with the demands of art and commercialism, as well as focus, inspiration, and drive. Around him, a number of supporting characters take occasional centre stage: his girlfriend Ahsley, his mentor and equally obnoxious writer Ike, and his college colleague Yvette.
This is written and directed by Alex Ross Perry, whose work has been likened to a young Woody Allen's as well as to Wes Anderson's. But if you have seen any of their works, and have also come across Noah Baumbach's too, you'll likely feel that the parallelisms are somewhat stronger here, especially with his most recent While We're Young. There was a strong feeling of Wes to Listen Up Philip (not just because it stars Jason Schwartzman by the way), this I cannot deny, but it was superficial. What characterises Wes's movies, in my view, has always been an underlying sense of hope, even positivity, that ultimately stems from our inner turmoil; Philip has us stare down a black hole of misery and when we finally look away, we're told the main character will stay there for ever. Good riddance I say.
There is more than an element of flat, cardboard cut-out feel to some of these characters: Philip for one, but Ike too, and I think that some sophisticated viewers may find it off-putting. After all, we all know that life is never quite that clear-cut, but while life itself may not be, I have found that there are people out there who are, decidedly, clearly, ultimately assholes and have never been anything but assholes. This infuses the movie with a rather special, acerbic quality: although pedalled as a comedy (I don't know why... to me a comedy is Pitch Perfect or Dumb and Dumber), this is really a character-driven story that is neither comedic nor tragic, and that has more in common with a story told in the manner of The Winter Guest.
I felt very strongly that the director was just about scratching the surface of what Ashley, the long-suffering girlfriend, was truly going through and it is when the movie focused on her that I particularly enjoyed the exploration of how our microcosms (which, as writers, almost invariably always are in our heads), affect the people closest to us.
I've already heard from plenty of people who called this 'pointless and boring' but then, I am not surprised in the slightest. We are regularly swamped with in-your-face stories about in-your-face characters; Hollywood churns tens of these weekly and I often feel like I watch them all (I have a Cineworld Unlimited subscription you see...). To watch Philip and enjoy it requires a swift recalibration of what stories worthy of cinematic telling are about and as far as I am concerned, it really isn't all about earthquakes, horrors, disasters or superheroes. It is entirely normal to worry about disasters that will never befall us when we wake up in the middle of the night, or to think about our future, our health, our next journey, be this a literal or philosophical one. Therefore, if you too are interested in the mundane, the boring, the self-obsessed and the everyday, if you too think that our lives too are worthy of the silver screen, by all means go to Philip; I'm sure you will like it.