You can feel in your bookworm bones how the spirit, form, and style of authors like Roth, Ford, and Yates have been transposed on screen. There are moments throughout that leaves one marvelling, such as a wonderfully narrated segment where Philip’s girlfriend Ashley gets her own “chapter” as she attempts to emotionally save and free herself from Philip. The voice-over is granted the personal insights and resonate prose that details her inner workings in ways that wouldn’t be out of place in Richard Ford’s Bascombe trilogy (well, minus the first person) and it’s a crystallizing moment of what Perry’s film does so well.
That narration, like much of Listen Up Philip, is indicative of the very thing that shouldn’t work according to the individual (and largely incompatible) sets of rules assigned to movies and books. Rules that Listen Up Philip somehow reconciles: the literary pulse starts to build the moment the omniscient narrator begins speaking, and winds up, finally pounding the film’s heart with the pitch-perfect final sentences that are so damn well written you’d dog-ear the page if it were an actual book.
Ultimately, Listen Up Philip’s greatest accomplishment is not its replication of fiction sensibilities in movie form, but how it replicates the joyful experience of reading a book like The Sportswriter or Portnoy’s Complaint. You know how people say, “Why would I read the book when I can see the movie?” Listen Up Philip provides the nigh miraculous opportunity to do both at once.
Listen Up Philip opens today at TIFF Lightbox.