Review: Irrational Man

Sometimes, acclaimed film directors make movies that stop and make you wonder how does this certain director see the world around him?

Woody Allen is certainly a living-legend who is still going strong for a man his age, but I guess if you still got it, you still got it. His latest film Irrational Man is like taking part in a rather stimulating conversation about anything important I suppose.

Academy Award nominee Joaquin Phoenix is Abe Lucas, a philosophy professor who suffers from despair. He joins the faculty of Brailand College in Rhode Island and he is already the most talked about figure on campus because of his enigmatic past, his complexly intricate and intelligent mind, and his bleak outlook on life.

His biggest fan appears to be a student named Jill, played by Academy Award nominee Emma Stone. Jill isn’t so much a fan, more so an obsessed groupie who is aching to get in bed with Abe even though Jill has a doting boyfriend named Roy, played by Jamie Blackley.

Image by Sony Pictures Classics

When Abe and Jill have this dinner outing, they intentionally eavesdrop on a conversation regarding a particular judge who is flaunting his authority in the courtroom and a troubled woman in the midst of a legal dispute with her husband is feeling on the brunt end of the judge’s power. Suddenly Abe has an epiphany: maybe the world could be better if this person didn’t exist anymore and this epiphany leads to an awakening in Abe on a platitude of levels.

As I watched Irrational Man unfold I was simply titillated as I watched these characters who could be described as personified incarnations of Woody Allen’s mental process interact within this fluid construct meant to symbolize the filmmaker’s inner mind.

In fact watching Irrational Man made me hearken back to the French New Wave, particularly the Cahiers sect, as I saw so many familiar motifs such as the jazz score, the simplistic cinematography, the man and woman taking multiple lovers while never truly committing to each other, the shocking yet awkwardly ambiguous ending, this was fascinating to see.

Perhaps the greatest irony of Irrational Man is the fact that Phoenix’s character, Abe, is romantically linked to Stone’s character, Jill, and there is a significant age difference between the two-I’ve heard the Woody Allen-Soon-Yi Previn jokes and I found it delicious that these characters had that kind of dynamic going on.

By David Shankbone (David Shankbone), via Wikimedia Commons

Anyway, this is a very nice film. Obviously, it’s not the best Woody Allen has ever done, but I thought the writing and direction had the signature Woody Allen touch; sharp, intelligent, humorous, tasteful but mature.

The cast delivers solid performances even though the characters outside of Jill and Abe have very little depth behind them. The supporting cast of Parker Posey, Betsy Aidem, Ethan Phillips are all either reduced to props or served only a few significant plot points and are never heard from again; in fact some of the characters don’t even have names of their own and are just called “Student,” “April’s Friend,” “Jill’s Friend” etc.

Joaquin Phoenix is always superb in my eyes. He always brings his A-game and he was so entertaining as Abe from when he had no passion for/towards life to when he contemplates murdering a man he’s never even met and finds a zeal for/towards life in the process.

I thought Stone’s character was a tough pill to swallow but I liked her performance as well. Granted she took a beating from critics for her controversial role in Aloha but I liked her in this movie and Allen has this reputation of bringing out the best in his leading actresses, for example Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine.

I thought Darius Khondji’s cinematography, the editing of Alisa Lepselter, Jennifer Engel’s set decoration, Carl Sprague’s art direction, the technical aspects of Irrational Man was simplistic yet effective in enhancing the aesthetic and textual appeal of Irrational Man.

I feel that unless you are fan of Woody Allen’s pictures, or mature enough to understand where the influences of the film come from or practically the target audience this film, you may not understand the premise of this film. It’s very artistic, and therein lies the appeal of the film’s entertainment prowess, and if that is what you are looking for in a picture, Irrational Man would be your cup of tea.

I can’t say that Irrational Man is one of the year’s best films, I can’t say that it is one of Woody Allen’s best pictures but I sincerely enjoyed it all the same. It is certainly a stimulating piece.


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