Trailer Face-Off: Listen Up Philip vs. Big Eyes

Published October 16, 2014

Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: Big Eyes vs. Listen-Up Philip, two films about a narcissistic creative individual who values their work more than their loved ones.

PremiseListen Up Philip and Big Eyes are two upcoming films that explore the mind of the artist. They also both feature actors Jason Schwartzman and Krysten Ritter. Listen Up Philip, which comes out in theaters tomorrow, stars Schwartzman as a narcissistic, solipsistic writer named Philip. He’s a character made to hate; he’s self-centered, obnoxious, and extremely rude to everyone around him, especially to the people he’s supposed to love. After a disappointingly critical review of his second novel, Philip retreats to the country house of his literary idol Ike Zimmerman, who is just as ego-centric and unsentimental.

Big Eyes is Tim Burton’s latest project based on the true story of the artist Margaret Keane (Amy Adams). Margaret’s husband, Walter (Christoph Waltz), fraudulently claimed to have created her paintings of females with unnaturally bulbous, gleaming eyes. He became incredibly famous for these works, while she was not recognized at all. Margaret finally stood up to him, divorced him, and publicized that he stole her work. This resulted in a dramatic court battle that she ultimately won. When the former couple was asked to paint one of their idiosyncratic paintings in court, Walter claimed to have a shoulder injury while Margaret created a big-eyed portrait in just 53 minutes. That’s all the jury and the rest of the world needed to see.Advantage: Big Eyes

DirectorsBoth films are helmed by talented directors. Alex Ross Perry, who wrote and directed Listen Up Philip, is an up-and-coming director who displayed an off-kilter, absurdist humor in his previous films Impolex and The Color Wheel. When it comes his latest film, critics have compared Ross Perry to Woody Allen, mostly because of the self-deprecating comedy, but also because he dissects and exposes the vulnerability and complicated psyche of the neurotic. The similarity is particularly noticeable with the jazz music crooning in the background of the film’s trailer set in New York City.

Tim Burton, who directed Big Eyes, certainly has a great deal more experience that Ross Perry. This film stands out amongst his extensive repertoire, mostly because it’s more “normal” than his previous work. There isn’t an absurd or dreamlike element. Johnny Depp doesn’t make an appearance. We’re excited to see what Burton will come up with in a more realistic template.Advantage: Tie

The CastAs previously mentioned, both casts include Jason Schwartzman and Krysten Ritter, though in entirely different roles. Listen Up Philip stars Schwartzman as the titular character, allowing him to exercise his deadpan humor. Jonathan Pryce plays Philip’s mentor Zimmerman, with Krysten Ritter as Zimmerman’s daughter. Mad Men‘s Elisabeth Moss co-stars as Philip’s girlfriend, and Dree Hemingway and Josephine de la Baume plays two of the girls with whom Schwartzman fools around, and probably treats terribly.

Amy Adams’ character in Big Eyes has a juicy arc: at the beginning of the film, she’s trampled on by her husband (Christoph Waltz, whom we always adore); by the end, she’s publicly showing him up and reclaiming her rightful identity.  Ritter plays Margaret’s best friend; Jason Schwartzman, a gallery owner.  Danny Huston also appears as a reporter named Dick Nolan.Advantage: Big Eyes

The Disintegrating RelationshipOne of the elements these two films have in common is that both depict a crippling relationship between the creative type and another person. In Big Eyes, the relationship is between artist and con artist, Margaret and Walter Keane. Walter takes advantage of his wife’s dependence on him (it’s the 1960s and she’s a divorcee with a child). He manipulates her and refuses her the rights to his own work. When they go to court, he accuses of her of being crazy.

While not quite as overtly malicious, Philip is an apathetic soul who treats his girlfriends, and past girlfriends, like dirt. He values himself and his writing much, much more. In the trailer, before he leaves for his retreat in the country, Philip tells his girlfriend, “I think this will be good for us, but especially for me.” Philip and Walter are both manipulative jerks, but Philip seems like he’d be funnier to watch destroying the relationships before him.Advantage: Listen Up Philip

Portrait of the ArtistWhat is unique about these two films is how they both grapple with the artist’s mind. In Listen Up Philip, the protagonist wants to be respected and memorialized as a premier writer. That is his utmost goal in life. Treating people kindly and building lasting relationships is trifling in comparison.

In Big Eyes, Walter Keane’s contested creative ability really belongs to his wife. What drives Walter is money and success. He adds his signatures to her artistic creations and then mass produces them. He becomes famous (and ridiculously rich) from his lies.Advantage: Big Eyes

The VerdictWe’d happily watch both films, but Big Eyes is a little higher up on our priority list.The Winner: Big Eyes 

Trailer Face-Off runs every Thursday. For more, click here