by E. Ladd
Woody Allen’s latest film Irrational Man follows philosophy professor Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix) as he arrives to teach a summer class at a small-town Rhode Island college. Abe is experiencing an existential crisis, numbed by the fact that he had set out to be an “active world changer, not a passive intellectual.” Although deeply embroiled in his own angst, he soon finds himself being pursued by fellow professor Rita (Parker Posey) and young student Jill (Emma Stone). After overhearing a conversation at a diner one afternoon with Jill, he suddenly has a revelation and resolves to act on what he thinks will finally give his life purpose. The remainder of the film focuses on the outcome and consequences of his action.
It’s a solid enough film, and some might even hail it as a well-crafted and smart dark comedy. The problem is that you can’t help comparing Irrational Man to all of Allen’s other films, many of which are far superior. Especially when you look at some of his most recent films Midnight In Paris, Vicki Cristina Barcelona, and Blue Jasmine. I walked out of the screening thinking how much this particular film reminded me of his 2005 film Match Point, which, in my opinion, was a better movie. This one seems to tread a little too far into familiar territory and ultimately falls short.
This isn’t to say that the film doesn’t have its merits. There are fine performances here. The combination of the morose and disheveled Phoenix spouting philosophical tidbits (“Hell is other people”, “ah, the transient futility of human amusement”, etc.) and rosy-cheeked innocence of Stone work nicely together. Posey’s talent also shines in her portrayal as Abe’s lustful, unhappily married coworker/sometime lover. The dialogue is clever, as always, and the cinematography is lovely. Allen always manages to make the locations of his films pop, the surroundings being treated as if they are a character of their own. The setting here, with the majestic old buildings of the campus and the ocean at sunset, add to the tone. I believe most Woody Allen fans will appreciate Irrational Man, but when compared to everything else in his repertoire, they may be slightly disappointed.
Watch the trailer for Irrational Man
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