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MOVIE REVIEW: Irrational Man

| 13 August 2015 | Reply

MOVIE REVIEW: Irrational Man
Directed by Woody Allen
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, Parker Posey
Reviewed by Shane Pinnegar

Irrational Man movie poster

Writer/director Woody Allen is slated by many as one of the greatest American auteurs of his generation, but that’s a view this reviewer does not share. I find many of his films banal, whiny and more and more creepy in a considerably-older-man-hooks-up-with-(or is infatuated by)-a-far-younger-girl way.

Thankfully Allen has realised he is too past it to play the neurotic or depressed star of his films, so in Irrational Man he leaves it to Joaquin Phoenix’s philosophy professor Abe to passively allow himself to be seduced by his much younger student Jill, played by Emma Stone.

From the moment Abe dawdles into the staid, preppy, moneyed halls of the Newport, Rhode Island university, Allen clumsily cuts from scene to scene of unnamed supporting cast members who gossip about the formidable reputation which precedes him.

Seemingly permanently semi-wasted and miserable and on the edge of a very deep abyss of depression, Abe may have a black cloud following him closely, but that makes him super-attractive (in Allen’s world) to fellow teacher and neighbour Rita, and his aforementioned student Jill.

Allen makes it clear that Abe is depressed in the wake of the death of his best friend – after all, he swigs from a hip flask and is unable to perform in bed with Rita, spouting morose existentialist philosophy all the while. Case closed.

Until, that is, Abe decides to undertake an existential, humanitarian act… and kill someone. (It’s a complicated story and we’ll try and avoid spoilers, so just take it as read that there’s a reason for this radical decision, however flimsy it may be) This envigorates his soul, gives him a life’s purpose and imbues him with vigour – not to mention putting lead back in his pencil, if you know what I mean…

Played properly this could be a darkly comedic magic moment, and to be fair there are a few humourous moments – and some near-intrigue as the movie becomes a cat and mouse game as Abe ponders the meaning of happiness in his own life – but it’s all so clumsily executed that the second hand just ticks ever so slowly towards an unsatisfyingly abrupt conclusion.

It doesn’t help that the lead characters are all so unlikable. Abe is so self-involved he may be a sociopath – he shows no remorse for the murder of a complete stranger that he starts planning, and is half-arsed refusals to have sex with Jill at first seem more like a device to make her want him more before he pounces on his prey. Jill is apparently 21 as she orders a wine in a bar (without being carded, which is unlike any experience I’ve ever had in America) but acts like a clichéd seventeen year old schoolgirl, all self-righteous and moody. Rita is the most lovable – a lush and a tart, but the only one without a hidden agenda. The less said about the supporting characters the better, as they are all practically anonymous vehicles to move minor plot points forward and provide no other depth or emotional support at all.

And then there’s the voice-over narrations. Often used to disguise a film maker’s failings when they’ve not made a coherent picture, here the use of both Jill and Abe’s voices referencing events that are happening at the same time are so redundant as to provide a huge neon flashing sign to the truth: Allen’s movie provides so little humanity and depth that he should have spent another year or so on the screenplay rather than trying to bluff his way through so ham-fistedly.

Irrational Man provided one belly laugh, though. When one primary character dies dramatically towards the very end of the piece, the entire theatre burst out laughing – though whether it was intentional on Allen’s part or a result of the character being thoroughly unlikable, is unsure.


Category: Movie & Theatre Reviews

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