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‘Listen Up, Philip’ Brings Philip Roth to the Screen (Or Maybe Not)

"Listen Up Philip" Portraits - 2014 Sundance Film Festival

Alex Ross Perry’s third feature film may not ostensibly be about the iconic American novelist Philip Roth, but with its curly-cue typeface titles reminiscent of the script from the cover of Portnoy’s Complaint, succession of irate women berating the author/love interest for his self-involvement and other themes from his books scattered here and there, including a protagonist named Philip, the connection seems irresistible. In the trailer for “Listen Up, Philip, ” a series of put-downs and vindictive yet subtle taunts by females, are couched between admiration from an  male fan and wannabe friend and expressions of interest from an elderly literary mentor played by Jonathan Pryce. The protagonist, who doesn’t appear in the trailer until the end, is Philip Lewis Friedman and is played by Jason Schwartzman. Some say it is a homage to the recently-retired octogenarian novelist who penned “Portnoy’s Complaint, ” “Goodbye, Columbus, ” “American Pastoral” and “Sabbath’s Theater, ” 33 novels in all.

At the New York Film Festival, Alex Ross Perry, according to Tablet, acknowledged that Roth was an inspiration for the piece, “His influence on me is 100 percent.” He added he had, “totally assimilated” his work and was “a huge fan of his life.” However, according to the Forward, Perry tells a very different story. “I went through a period when I read three Richard Yates books in a row. The prose was so cold and unemotional, and yet it was the most flourishing, emotional way of describing emotional torment, even more so than Roth .”

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So is it or is it not based on Philip Roth? Well, fans and critics of the novelist have accused him of playing a similar game, inviting parallels between his fiction and his own life, while the author directly rejected any comparisons. So perhaps Alex Ross Perry is ultimately “Rothian, ” inviting the comparisons (I can’t get over the curlycue script that just screams Portnoy’s Complaint in the titles), and then unceremoniously rejects them.



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