Mere seconds into Alex Ross Perry’s razor-sharp comedy, laugh-out-loud jokes are being fired thick and fast. Accompanied by suave jazz and an eloquent voice-over, we follow Philip Lewis Friedman (Jason Schwartzman) as he struts the streets of New York with more arrogant self-reflection and narcissism than a Woody Allen character, and proceeds to spectacularly insult everyone he has a conversation with. In fact, rarely since the early masterpieces of Allen himself have we had such a feast of richly witty dialogue and deliciously cringey moments being inexhaustibly delivered blow after blow. Even the jaunty spurts of piano and saxophone exude a kind of cheeky irony that, scored to Schwartzman’s brilliantly moody, smug ‘tortured artist’ character, lends itself to the whole film’s continuous, energetic playfulness.
Philip is a writer. His success has gone straight to his head and made him insufferable. He befriends much older but equally insufferable fellow writer Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce) who takes him under his wing, whisks him away to his ‘country retreat’ and proceeds to fill him with equal measures of wisdom, advice and 10-year Laphroaig which he shamelessly passes off as 25-year Laphroaig. Ike seems to thrive off feeding Philip’s already bursting ego, and the pair are thick as thieves; yet too individually selfish to be sentimental in their relationship – but it just works. Everyone standing in the pompous duo’s way is driven to seethe with exasperation, most of which actually seem to be attractive, admirable women whom Philip is blind or indifferent to. There is Ike’s surly, beautiful daughter Melanie (Krysten Ritter) whose coy attention he simply bats off. There is the elegant, intelligent Yvette (Josephine de la Baume) who he fickly dates purely because he’d always wanted to tick ‘French girlfriend’ off his teenage list. And there is kooky, warmly likeable Ashley (Elisabeth Moss), his long-suffering but strong-willed partner, in a role that will delight Mad Men fans – it’s Peggy reincarnated as a cool, choppy-blonde photographer and every bit as watchable. Whilst her estranged boyfriend is off gallivanting somewhere unknown, she builds herself a new life and balances the general wackiness with a dollop of human empathy.
The plot is simple enough, but – in reflection of the protagonist himself – meanders and procrastinates and takes its sweet time to reach any destination: but that’s ok. Spoilt rotten by sharp performances, snappy cinematography and a narration that has the flavoursome language of a full-scale novel being read aloud to us, we as viewers are made very comfortable to enjoy the ride. It’s not effortful, it’s not probing for deeper reflection; it’s just really slick, and really good fun.This review comes from a screening at the 58th London Film Festival 2014 (LFF 2014).