Double bill time! US indie filmmaker Alex Ross Perry's two latest offerings, vary in their own strains, LISTEN UP PHILIP is a Woody Allen-esque drama-comedy and QUEEN OF EARTH probes into a more psycho-horror genre without resorting to cheap scare.
The former, stars Schwartzman as the titular Philip Lewis Friedman, an up-and-coming novelist is on the cusp of publishing his second novel, but finds himself in contradictions with everything in his life. Wearing a seasonally-inappropriate jacket, a metaphor of his failure of accustoming his ever-distending ego to the reality, Philip waywardly puts a damper on the relationship with his live- in girlfriend of two years, Ashley (Moss), an aspiring photographer, after he accepts an open-end invitation from a venerable writer Ike Zimmerman (Pryce), whom he vastly admires, to stay with him in the latter's country house under the pretext of rendering a finishing touch to his upcoming novel.
Cynical as me, an instantaneous question emerges, why Zimmerman wants to help Philip at the first place? Since what we have been imbued as far is that Philip is an objectionable egomaniac who may or may not have the potential to be a sterling writer, betrays his sexist stance and well- conceived jealousy as soon as he has the possibility to achieve something (Ashley has always been the breadwinner in their relationship). Cunningly the downside of Ike's seemingly comfy life bares itself, he needs Philip - not just as an impressionable young man to whom he can impart his wisdom, as much as Philip needs him, the tension between him and his daughter Melanie (Ritter), the writer's blocks and shrouding loneliness consume his strength, more pragmatically and pathetically he needs Philip to be his wing-man if he want to get laid with younger chicks. So, to answer my question, Ike sees himself in Philip, and Philip takes him as a role model, they share the same rotten DNAs. Great writers can inspire epiphany and confer wisdom to readers through their erudite thoughts and conception, one might think they (or at least the really estimable ones) would lead a sensible and judicious life, obviously Perry cannot second that.
Introduced by an obtrusively wordy voice-over (Bogosian), continues like a running commentary rambling on the characters' pickles with unapologetic-ally pseudo-intellectual eloquence; shot with hand-held immediacy and close-ups a gogo, LISTEN UP PHILIP is at its worst being too quirky and conceited in its high-brow affectations, while at its best retaining an honest take on a real-life jerk's ups-and-downs, significantly owing to a well-chosen cast, Schwartzman is in his wheelhouse to be mercilessly arrogant and self-centered, which otherwise, accentuates Moss' visceral and layered performance which gratifyingly holds the ground in the finale, and Pryce has been allotted with munificent screen-time to establish Ike as someone whose remorse is as vague as his smugness.
In QUEEN OF EARTH, Alex Ross Perry ventures into a more daring and unsettling territory, pairs Moss and Waterston as two life-long friends Catherine and Virginia, but intriguingly pivots around the mental deterioration of Catherine, who has not only recently loses her artist father (in suicide), not also in the opening sequences, breaks up with her longtime boyfriend James (Audley).
Immediately the camera takes us to a lake house retreat, which is owned by Virginia's uncle. Catherine is invited by Virginia to stay with her there, to recuperate from the nadir. Then flashbacks and cutaways shows that one year earlier, before Catherine losing those two important men in her life, she and James had also spent their vacation with Virginia in the same place, and the atmosphere was not all that pleasant, the two girls were bickering all the time, throwing snide at each other, do they suppose to be besties?
The tranquility doesn't quite work in favour of Catherine, who has no interest in swimming in the lake or jogging in the morning, as if she is struck by some strange lethargy, and the interaction between them is also not wholesome, constantly felt being watched by Virginia, Catherine tip-toes around when she is making phone-calls, their intimate conversations loses its momentum pretty quickly, although, nothing really happens, Catherine becomes increasingly watchful and retreats to herself, especially after the advent of Rich (Fugit), Virginia's man friend lives nearby, whom Catherine and James met also one years before.
Imposing a more static strategy of framing, this time, Perry collectedly deploys natural sound (humming, droning, whirring, rustling) and an unsettlingly ambient score from DeWitt as major players in the game, together they suffuse the narrative as a haunting and mythifying undertone, fittingly trace out Catherine's paranoia and slide. After the sly (if not entirely unnecessary) implications of a murder (with a discombobulating cameo from Keith Poulson) and body horror (the pain in the face could lead to an apposite nightmarish scenario when the bones beneath are struggling for emergence), Catherine consummates her meltdown by giving Rich a mind-blowing dressing-down and later a creepy surrender-pleading-seduction combo to further throw herself down to the mental dysfunctional abyss. Moss is unbelievably versatile and emotive here, chilling, disquieting and unforgiving and Waterston proves herself a dab hand of deception and subtlety in her passive-aggressive retribution.
That's when Perry cagily divulges the reason behind in the last snippet of flashback, if everything turns out to be a carefully planned revenge, could it justify the entire story? It's a tricky question, but one thing is for sure, QUEEN OF EARTH is a surprising oddity endeavors to fearlessly tap into the boundary and essential compositions of friendship between two (female) friends, and artfully construes its aftermath with a firm sleight-of-hand.
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