Irrational Man

Irrational ManSynopsis: Woody Allen’s IRRATIONAL MAN is about a tormented philosophy professor (Joaquin Phoenix) who finds a will to live when he commits an existential act. Once Abe makes a profound choice, he is able to embrace life to the fullest again. But his decision sets off a chain of events that will affect him, and his lovers Jill (Emma Stone) and Rita (Parker Posey) forever.

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Irrational Man 7.75

eyelights: Joaquim Phoenix. Emma Stone. the deep black humour.
eyesores: the facile way in which the clues are revealed to Jill.

‘Irrational Man’ is a Woody Allen dramedy starring Joaquim Phoenix, Emma Stone, Parker Posey and Jamie Blackley. It tells the story of the developing relationship between a morose philosophy teacher and one of his students as they cope with the knowledge that a local judge’s decisions are destroying a mother’s life.

The picture not only revolves around the usual Allen-esque themes of existentialism and infidelity, it also delves into the darkest recesses of the human heart, asking questions about morality and individual responsibility. It has been greeted by mixed reviews, with some declaring it the worst picture of Allen’s entire career.

I’m an avowed Woody Allen fan (with nearly all of his extensive filmography in my own collection), but I’m no apologist. Woody has made some crappy films, some inconsistent ones and some largely forgettable ones. But he’s made some great ones too. Many. And even his bad ones usually have something of interest.

‘Irrational Man’ isn’t his greatest, that’s for sure. There are too many that fit in that category to mention, but this one is nestled either at the top of the second-tier Allen oeuvre, or at the bottom of the top tier. It is, in my opinion, an excellent cousin of  ‘Match Point’ and is certainly his best dramatic film since ‘Cassandra’s Dream‘.

What’s interesting about ‘Irrational Man’ is that it’s been billed as a straight drama when it’s actually anything but. In fact, it is a dark comedy, one of Allen’s darkest if not THE darkest of them all: the humour is derived from the absurd aspects of human behaviour (ex: misanthropy) and belief (ex: morality). It’s full of subtle humour throughout.

(Unlike ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona‘, which is deemed a comedy, but is fully devoid of humour)

The first part of the picture is the richest, serving up the inner monologues of both of our leads, giving us not just character development and exposition but the perfect perspective on both. It explains why Abe and Jill act the way that they do, making them three-dimensional. You may not agree or relate but you understand them.

Their relationship is predictable (the question of infidelity in a Woody Allen film, is more “who” and “when” than “what” or “why”), of course, but the film is not about that. It is in actuality just a vehicle for getting the characters together in one key place and time, triggering the second part of the picture: Abe’s total metamorphosis.

I’m no great fan of Phoenix, but he’s terrific as Abe; he even shows some Allen-esque mannerisms that I’ve ever only seen Woody do. He either studied Woody’s films or he was coached. Either way, he inhabits the part, complete with a paunch and a mumble. But he’s great: he has moments of inarticulateness that are quite humourous.

Meanwhile Emma Stone is perfectly credible as Jill, even as she didn’t sweep me off my feet. She’s a good match for Phoenix, being both slightly unusual and intelligent. But she has one stellar moment, when Jill discovers the truth about Abe’s extra-curricular activities (so to speak); the look on her face was really phenomenal.

Parker Posey was solid through and through and I really enjoyed seeing her playing a more straight part, instead of a bitchy and/or whiny character – which she does so well far too often. She’s Allen’s new Judy Davis. Jamie Blackley is also quite good, even if his character is a bit nondescript; he pulls it off admirably well on all counts.

Where the picture crumbles a little bit is after Abe’s transformation, when the script falls into a predictable flow and Jill begins to suspect Abe. The key problem in this sequence of events is just how easily the dots are connected for her; it all just falls into her lap, whereas Allen could have made a whole movie of this instead. Oh well.

*MAJOR spoiler alert*

This gradually dispelled my interested, but the ending saves it: I adored seeing the awkwardness of Abe’s actions because they added humour to an otherwise horrible moment. It felt true-to-life, not pre-packaged, especially in that amazing moment when he falls into the elevator shaft. What a great, realistic fall; I bought it.

*MAJOR spoiler alert*

In the end, ‘Irrational Man’ is a very good film, and I don’t really understand why some people disliked it: the script is tight if not wholly original, the pacing and construction are excellent, the performances are good or great, the picture was soft on the eyes, making great use of the Rhode Island locations and scenery, and even the contemporary jazz score was perfectly-suited to the mix.

I’d watch it again.

Seriously, no matter what some critics say, ‘Irrational Man’ is anything but an irredeemable movie.

Date of viewing: July 31, 2015

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