Elisabeth Moss and Jason Schwartzman in Listen Up Philip (Tribeca Film)

Alex Ross Perry says he was inspired to write and direct Listen Up Philip because he read a novel in which the central character disappears for much of the book. He thought it would be interesting to make a movie in which the same thing happens.

After seeing Listen Up Philip, I think he should have waited for a little more inspiration.

Perry says he also was influenced by a period in his own life when he was forced to travel and thus lost touch with his own friends and relationships: “they were all being put on hold.”

But presumably Perry had been a more devoted friend than title character Philip (Jason Schwartzman), who’s so self-centered and devoid of empathy that he’s basically absent from other people’s lives even when he’s physically present. In light of that shortcoming, what difference does it make to them—or to us—if he decides to go away for a while?

The young writer is feeling stifled by his life in New York and by the expectations that follow the success of his first novel. So when established author Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce) invites him to spend time at his secluded upstate home, Philip readily accepts.

Naturally, live-in girlfriend Ashley (Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss) is unhappy when Philip nonchalantly announces that he’s going away for the summer. After he leaves, though, her life doesn’t change all that much. She couldn’t count on him when he was there, so the only difference is that now she knows she can’t count on him.

Beyond the structural innovation of having his protagonist disappear for a long stretch, Perry’s apparent intent is to show how the various characters affect each other. How, for example, will Philip be affected by older writer Ike, who shares his self-centered tendencies and seems determined to act as his mentor?

Maybe if Philip were depicted as less of a solipsist, the question would be more interesting. But we know from the beginning—both from his actions and from the frequent narration—that Philip seldom thinks of anyone but himself. He’s not likely to change after spending time with Ike.

As for Ashley, she does make some important decisions once Philip leaves her on her own, but they’re not as momentous as one might think. Like Philip, her personality is pretty much set in stone from the beginning.

The only character who undergoes a major transition is Yvette (Josephine de La Baume), a French professor who becomes both professionally and personally involved with Philip. Her reaction to the experience is one of the flick’s few expressions of unvarnished emotion.

Was it a good idea to build a 108-minute flick around a literary gimmick? Probably not, but at least Perry found a good cast to tackle it.

True, Moss doesn’t make Ashley quite as watchable as Mad Men’s Peggy, but that’s because Ashley doesn’t benefit from a seven-season story arc. Meanwhile, Pryce’s Ike is smart enough to be interesting, and Schwartzman makes Philip palatable by giving the impression that the writer is driven by an emotional disability rather than outright meanness.

So put good acting down as the film’s main strength. As for its main weakness, it would have to be that when Philip suddenly disappears, we aren’t all that eager for him to return.

Rating: 2½ stars (out of 5)

Listen Up Philip, rated R, opens Friday (Nov. 7) at the Gateway Film Center in Columbus.