Review of Woody Allen’s latest movie IRRATIONAL MAN Part 4

Irrational Man Official Trailer #1 (2015) – Emma Stone, Joaquin Phoenix Movie HD

Woody Allen, Emma Stone and the cast of Irrational Man in Cannes

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL

MAY 15, 2015 1:13 PM

Emma Stone Shines in Woody Allen’s Surprising Irrational Man

Courtesy of the Cannes Film Festival
It’s not the icky professor-student romantic comedy you’re expecting.

As far as Woody Allen philosophical thought experiments go, you could do a lot worse than his latest film, Irrational Man, which premiered out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival today. Working in a half-light, half-dark vein that’s a bit like Match Point (his best film of the past 10 years) with more jokes, Allen has made something that’s certainly entertaining, if not exactly enlightening. He’s working at dinner-party depth here, tossing out bits of Kant and Kierkegaard to add some intellectual padding to a swift little story about a college professor going nuts. I was pleasantly surprised by the film’s unexpected wicked edge, as I had steeled myself for the icky professor-student romantic comedy the trailers suggested. There is some of that in the film, but it’s not the primary focus.

I’m reluctant, though, to tell you what the film is actually about, seeing as the trailer is so careful not to reveal that. So, if you’d rather not know, stop reading now!

Joaquin Phoenix plays Abe Lucas, a depressed, alcoholic philosophy professor who arrives in Newport, Rhode Island, to teach a summer session at a fictional liberal-arts college. Known for his provocative writing on the futility of existence—and for an elaborately tragic backstory that keeps changing as people retell it, like a game of Telephone—Abe quickly catches the eye of a fellow professor named Rita (Parker Posey) and an eager student, Jill (Emma Stone). Dogged by rumors of past affairs with students, Abe is initially resistant to Jill’s obvious come-ons, and instead tries to make something work with Rita. He’s been having performance issues for the past year, though, so he’s not really able to “unblock” himself, as Rita puts it. At this point in the film, I settled in for a light, Philip Rothian comedy of conflicted virility, which didn’t seem terribly interesting.

But then, a twist. While having lunch with Jill one day, Abe overhears a woman bemoaning her sad situation to her friends: her lout of an ex-husband is trying to gain custody of their two kids, and the judge in the case is in cahoots with the guy’s lawyer. She feels utterly helpless, and says that she wishes the judge would get cancer and die. This puts a crazy, but, as he sees it, rational thought in Abe’s head: he should kill the judge. The judge is a bad man and this poor woman needs help, so getting rid of him would be a good, anonymous, morally defensible, even righteous, thing to do. Of course Abe is nuts to think this, buthe doesn’t know that. So he goes about plotting this man’s demise, suddenly invigorated and renewed by his new sense of purpose—his new philosophy for living. He gives into his attraction to Jill, a blissful if illicit love blooms, and, all told, things seem to have worked out quite well. Of course, they don’t stay that way.

As Irrational Man becomes a comedy about that murder, the film is infused with an intriguing jolt of seriousness, which is always welcome from Allen. Irrational Man doesn’t take on the deliciously unsettling nervous tingle of Match Point, nor the tricky moral dynamics of Crimes and Misdemeanors, but it does have genuine dramatic stakes, which mix discordantly, in a good way, with the film’s bouncy score and summery, sun-splashed setting. It makes for an odd film, but it works.

Phoenix hasn’t been asked to do a Woody impression like some actors in Allen’s past films, which is a good thing. This is one of the more low-key Phoenix performances to date, even though he’s playing a hard-drinking murderous lech. He’s funny, but ultimately doesn’t make much of an impression. In his defense, that might be because Stone commands such attention in her scenes, giving a lively, intelligent performance that puts her high up on the list of Allen’s best recurring actresses. She has a real understanding of Allen’s cadence and rhythm, and just about sells the silly notion that college students in 2015 talk like Woody Allen characters. (Irrational Man is alone worth a watch to see what Woody Allen thinks a college party is like.) I wish Allen would just write a real lead role for her next time. While he’s at it, maybe he could write something juicy for Parker Posey, too. She’s great here, but I wish she had a little more to do.

Stone, and the film’s terrific final two scenes, are the best things about Irrational Man, which plays like a slight but enjoyable short story. There’s nothing wrong with that—minor works can still be good—but if the film is, perhaps, trying to spark any deep thinking with its warmed-over philosophy, it doesn’t succeed. Still, thanks largely to Stone, I have a perhaps irrational affection for the movie, surprising and satisfying as it is.

 

Irrational Man: Is It Any Good? (Cannes 2015)

Cannes 2015 – IRRATIONAL MAN by Woody ALLEN (Press conference)

Cannes presents: Woody Allen’s ‘Irrational Man’ (Red Carpet)

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