Review: Irrational Man

Written by: Dee Pilgrim

As you’d expect from a director who manages to churn out a movie a year, occasionally there is going to be one that doesn’t come up to scratch, even if the director in question happens to be the multi-talented Woody Allen.

Down the decades, Allen has given movie-goers much joy; from Manhattan to Annie Hall, Hannah and her Sisters, to the astonishing Blue Jasmine.

Emma Stone and Joaquin Phoenix in Irrational Man

However, this year seems to be the year of the dud because Irrational Man is, quite frankly, pseudo-intellectual tosh, so smug in its middle-class milieu it forgets that people with real worries and problems may not be that interested in a self-absorbed philosophy professor going through what’s basically a mid-life crisis.

The professor in question is Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix), who arrives at the beautiful campus of Braylin College with one well-received book under his belt. His moodiness and unattached status soon attracts the eye of several females at the college, including  a married but bored colleague (Parker Posey giving one of her best performances in years) and a young student Jill (Emma Stone). But even the attentions of two attractive women can’t lift Abe out of a fit of depression that is giving him writer’s block and killing his libido to boot.

Then Abe chances across a novel way to solve all his problems at once – he’ll commit a murder. Philosophically he justifies this by deciding to kill someone who deserves to die, thus cancelling out any moral qualms he may have. He finds the thought and the act liberating, starts sleeping better, rediscovers his sex drive and begins writing like a man possessed. But as everyone (except Abe, apparently) knows, there is no such thing as a perfect murder and with Jill starting to ask some seriously awkward questions, Abe’s plans start to unravel.

Irrational Man is, quite frankly, pseudo-intellectual tosh

Which is pretty much what starts to happen to the film. It’s not funny or dark enough to be classed a full-on comedy – in fact it’s not enough of anything to really be judged as a complete, finished work.

The story is thin and weak, there are no sub-plots of any mention and the majority of the ‘action’ consists of Abe walking around campus incessantly talking about his thoughts, his feelings, his depression. Jill’s part is underwritten and she is mainly used as a mere sounding board to Abe, while Parker Posey’s role seems to peter out after she provides Jill with a rather clunky clue to push the plot along.

The somewhat underwhelming climax does restore the natural moral order but it brings no satisfaction as a lack of empathy with the main character means you really don’t care.

So, this is far from Allen’s best work (or even Joaquin Phoenix’s for that matter). Maybe 2016 will see Allen return to form.

Author: Dee Pilgrim

Dee always knew she wanted to make her living from writing and so trained as a journalist before working for a variety of music and women’s titles including Sounds, Company, Cosmopolitan, Ms London, New Woman, and Girl About Town. After going freelance she concentrated on celebrity interviews and film, theatre, music and restaurant reviews. Her love of film goes back to her very first cinema experience at the age of five when her mother took her to see Bambi. She cried. At one time she was the Film Editor for NOW magazine and also the secretary for the film section of the Critics’ Circle and the celebrity coordinator for its annual film awards’ event. She has written a number of books for teenagers through Trotman Publishing, including five Real Life Guides to vocational careers (including Carpentry, Plumbing and Catering), and also three books on Real Life Issues (Money, Bereavement and Self Harm). Her favourite film is still Bladerunner.

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