Double Feature: Listen Up Philip (2014) and Queen of Earth (2015)

Listen Up PhilipSo it turns out I’m not much of an Alex Ross Perry fan.

I watched Listen Up Philip, Perry’s third feature, with high expectations. I’d heard positive things about this intelligent indie film, and its cast – Elisabeth Moss, Krysten Ritter, Jonathan Pryce and Jason Schwartzman as the titular Philip, a self-obsessed semi-successful New York author – was undeniably promising. Yet I was disappointed, left bitterly underwhelmed by a film that seemed to share the misanthropic, superior outlook of its unlikable hero.

Perry’s approach draws on both contemporary indie film conventions – a blend of the acerbic and the insubstantial – and trendy auteurs, particularly from the 1970s, in roughly equal measure. That marriage sounds compelling, but Listen Up Philip compromises its old-fashioned character study by adopting a loose, modern approach that fails to provide any substantial studying of its characters. Philip is a jerk, who continues to be a jerk throughout the film’s near two hour runtime; there’s some dramatic irony present in his inability to learn from his mistakes, I suppose, but little actual drama. The resultant film is competently shot and well-acted – Moss’s brief showcase is a particular highlight – but, for me, amounted to very little.

Queen of Earth

Perhaps the film had simply hit me the wrong way. Queen of Earth seemed like a necessary corrective. Elisabeth Moss would no longer be relegated to the supporting cast, but given the spotlight as Catherine, a woman trying – and failing – to escape her troubles at a lakeside retreat (alongside Katherine Waterston and, intermittently, Patrick Fugit and Kentucker Audley). Early reviews namechecked Persona and Repulsion; what’s not to like?

Except that Queen of Earth proved similarly dissatisfying. There are things that I like about it. Most of the conversations in the film are conducted with a naked hostility and/or competitiveness that exemplify the experience of someone in throes of deep-seated depression, where every social interaction is regarded as an attack. And Perry’s cinephilia is on full display – he draws on Woody Allen and Fassbinder and the setting and soundtrack even recall freakin’ Friday the 13th.

But the net effect is unconvincing. Again, Perry seems peculiarly unsympathetic to his characters, which prevents the film from creating the subjective, immersive experience he seems to strive for. It’s no sin to fall short of Repulsion or Persona, but Queen of Earth’s disconnect from its characters leaves it feeling flabby and purposeless; an ambitious but artistically empty bit of mimicry.

Listen Up Philip Rating:
2.5 stars
Queen of Earth Rating:
2.5 stars


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