Listen Up Philip: A Double Gaze


Listen Up Philip is filmed like a home video—unsteady with quick movements that make you wonder who is in charge of the camera. Of course the film does this on purpose and allows this realistic feeling to form as we see Philip’s (Jason Schwartzman) and Ashley’s (Elisabeth Moss) relationship dwindle and how their life proceeds without the other.

Despite the serious tone the story has regarding success and relationships, the film’s subtle humor makes the comedic moments cherished. You’re watching along realizing how self-absorbed the main character Phillip is. So much that his quick insults can be humorous because he is so nonchalant about his feelings towards the other minor characters. There are even a few moments that are laugh out loud funny like when Philip escapes the city to stay in writer Ike Zimmerman’s summer home and he finds a bizarre joy is mowing the lawn and smelling the fresh cut grass during the early mornings. Or when Philip meets up with an ex-girlfriend and she runs away after he suggests they kiss. The camera cuts to his sullen face as he watches her sprint away from him. There’s nothing to do but laugh. Then the funny business is over and we are back to feeling the utter loneliness both Ashley and Philip hold as well as everyone else in the film.

Overall, the film gives us a close look at vulnerable people. Literally a close look. Most of the shots are close-up profiles of Ashley and Philip or their faces straight at the lens as they hold back tears. What I like most about the film, though, besides the close-up shots that I do appreciate, are both the female and male gaze I saw throughout. For example, in the beginning the camera seems to be from the perspective of the different women looking at Philip. We see Emily (Dree Hemingway) a young woman who helps during a photo shoot of Philip and her eyes follow him throughout. She’s meek and quiet, but we get the sense that we see someone she admires. We feel her lust. The same is said later, while soon to be girlfriend of Philip, Yvette (Joséphine de La Baume), scans the writer in a crowd of people. She seems sneaky, but interested in the new writer. We feel what she does through the lens. However, while the camera has a women’s view for some time, it flips eventually. Soon Philip and Zimmerman stroll through the college that Philip teaches at and the lens focuses on thin college students, all of which are women. The dialogue between the two references all the beautiful women in college and it becomes clear the gaze has changed to a male’s. This flip-flop allows us to see the difference in male and female perspective regarding the opposite sex. In a more specific way, these two sides allow us to see the different reactions of Ashley and Philip, post breakup.

Ashley is so clearly more affected after the relationship ends, but I loved the strength the film ended up giving her. There is something inspiring in Ashley’s character that I think the film tries to point out: just because you’re alone, doesn’t mean you have to be or are lonely. I don’t want to spoil too much, but Ashley becomes what all women urge others to be like: strong, resistant, and confident. The issues regarding male verse female success is extremely relevant too, and the film did an excellent job showing how self-conscious Phillip was when Ashley was climbing the ladder of success faster then he was.

Except Philip remains the same from beginning to end. If only he cared about his life as much as his fictional one. But this also points out the issue with creative occupations: it’s a fantasy world most of the time so how do you live two lives? Can there be a balance? Philip treats his life like a novel. He writes in a scene and plays out the part. He creates his own drama because he can’t ride along with life’s own twists and turns. He simply wakes up and decides which ex he would try to swoon again. He finds a way to make himself miserable. This all goes back to the title. You want to shake almost every character throughout the film and show them the truth they’re missing or give some sound advice, but Philip is the one who really needs to listen up.

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