As far as curmudgeons go, Listen Up, Philip's Philip Lewis Friedman (Jason Schwartzman) ranks with the best of them. An up-and-coming author who's awaiting the publication of his second novel, he regularly belittles the people who are closest to him. He's a first-class asshole who has lunch with an ex-girlfriend just to tell she should have believed in his talent, and he tells off a friend for not adhering to their agreement to become famous authors together.
Philip finds a kindred spirit in fellow author Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce), another asshole of epic proportions who tells him things like, "Don't accept too readily something you might want," and, "You don't want to be trapped by academia — don't believe too strongly the structures they put in front of you." He also lets him stay at his house in the country so he can make some progress on his next novel. That, of course, doesn't go over well with Philip's live-in girlfriend Ashley (Elisabeth Moss), who keeps their New York apartment while he heads upstate. At Ike's place, he meets Ike's daughter Melanie (Krysten Alyce Ritter), who initially finds him intolerable and expresses her annoyance with him on a regular basis.
When Ike comes across an adjunct teaching gig that he says is beneath him, he passes it on to Philip, who almost immediately regrets accepting the position. "I wish somebody here would say something mean, or at least honest," Philip sneers as he attends a welcoming party at which everyone tells him how exciting it is that he's joined the faculty. The film stalls a bit mid-stream as it focuses more on Ashley than on Philip, but it gets back on track as it chronicles Philip's incredibly lame attempts at teaching.
Written and directed by Alex Ross Perry (The Color Wheel), the movie, which shows at 8:45 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 15, and at 7:15 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 16, at the Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque, comes off as something like a Woody Allen movie for a younger generation. The writing is sharp and Perry deserves credit for never letting Philip off the hook.