Monday, August 24, 2015


At 79 years old, writer/director Woody Allen is showing no signs of slowing down. By cranking out seven movies over the past five years, he’s become the assembly-line of filmmakers; throwing in all of his trademark themes in new surroundings in an apparent rush to beef up his numbers before old age finally catches up to him. His newest work, IRRATIONAL MAN, has nearly all of Allen’s tricks and trademarks; all the good ones, bad ones, and all the ones in-between. 

Abe (Joaquin Phoenix), a burned-out alcoholic philosophy professor who leans on life-lessons over textbooks, begins a new position at a small school and promptly starts a relationship with Jill (Emma Stone), who is one of his students, along with an affair with his fellow teacher Rita (Parkey Posey). Unable to sustain either relationship due to his depression, Abe stumbles upon a solution with deadly consequences. 

Sometimes the best storytelling happens when characters are thrown in a situation together and are allowed to just react to each other. This type of writing has served writer/director Woody Allen very well over his 50 years in the film business, and in the early goings of IRRATIONAL MAN, the stage is set for an excellent character study. Both Abe and Jill are from opposite ends of life; one has been beaten down and lost all zeal for living, while the other is young and full of love and life. Abe’s background as a philosophy teacher allows the film to explore many themes through the eyes of the great philosophers of our time, and Allen uses his time wisely in having his characters explore each other and moving the story forward. 

Things take a wicked left-turn when Abe, who is desperate to find a solution to his misery, suddenly decides to commit a murder which snaps him out of his depression. The introduction of the idea comes way out of left-field and is enough to jar the viewer right out of the movie, and things never quite recover from it. The idea is outrageous, and once Abe pulls off the crime IRRATIONAL MAN becomes a whodunit-flick in reverse where Jill, Rita, and others, who don’t know Abe committed the crime, try to figure out who the killer is. As a crime story it doesn’t work because the audience already knows the answer to whodunit, and most of, if not all of the great character moments that were built up in the early goings gets left on the table. 

Woody Allen’s talent for writing sharp dialogue isn’t really on display here. Characters don’t show much wit and overall the movie is dull to listen to even after the crime is committed and everyone starts playing cat-and-mouse. The dullness seeps into everything else about the movie; the pacing, aesthetic, and unfortunately…the acting. 

The actors involved, all of whom are talented, don’t seem to know what they’re supposed to do with the material. Joaquin Phoenix, who is supposed to be playing a tortured soul, is a bit of a snooze to watch as Allen doesn’t seem know exactly where to direct him. Emma Stone is charming and looks great as always, and she plays off of Phoenix nicely…but it always seems like there should be more for her to work with. Parker Posey as the unhinged affair-having wife escapes with the least damage. 

The finale brings with it a fair amount of laughs from the theatre; not because it’s funny but because it’s ridiculous and flies in the face of the seriousness of the situation the film wants to convey. It’s a silly way to end a dull and bizarre movie, one that Allen will hopefully learn a few lessons from before he cranks out another. 


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