Philip Lewis Friedman is the protagonist, but not what you'd call the hero, of "Listen Up Philip," a wickedly funny and ultimately profound new comedy by Alex Ross Perry. A talented novelist played by a deceptively soulful-looking Jason Schwartzman, Philip is catnip to a certain type of young, female Manhattanite. He's also rude, spiteful, petty and sociopathically focused on himself and his needs.
"I hope this will be good for us," Philip says, putting his long-suffering girlfriend, Ashley (Elisabeth Moss), on hold while he pursues his career, "but especially for me."
"Listen Up Philip" is written and directed by Perry, a filmmaker who is artistically ambitious and highly literate (his first film, "Imoplex," was inspired by Thomas Pynchon) but seems keenly aware of the dangers of being both. One of the film's most vivid characters is the prolific novelist Ike Zimmerman (a stunning Jonathan Pryce), who is clearly modeled on Philip Roth but represents any artist who has traded happiness for success. Unsurprisingly, Ike and Philip become fast friends. "Don't make yourself any more miserable than you need to be," the older man counsels. "Leave that to the women you love."
"Listen Up Philip" works as satire, but it's also as big and messy as one of its novelists' novels. Its female cast is terrific -- especially Krysten Ritter as Ike's embittered daughter and Joséphine de La Baume as an alluringly hostile college professor -- but none more than Moss. Though her Ashley commandeers the movie halfway through, Moss makes the digression pay off. Eric Bogosian narrates with chilly detachment.
This is a tour de force for Schwartzman, a veritable geyser of nasty punchlines, and for Perry, who has delivered the antidote to several years' worth of cute indie film about creative types living in modern Bohemia. "Listen Up Philip" is after a deeper, more discomfiting truth. It's a comedy that howls with pain.