IRRATIONAL MAN (USA/15A/95mins)

Directed by Woody Allen. Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, Parker Posey, Jamie Blackley, Susan Pourfar, Ben Rosenfield.

THE PLOT: A self-confessed “extremist”, nihilistic – or is it just misanthropic? – philosophy professor Abe (Phoenix) waddles into Braylin College, long past any lust for life, despite his whisphered reputation for being something of a ladies man. It’s a whisper that gets fellow professor Rita (Posey) all hot and calling late at night with a bottle of Abe’s favourite single malt. But Abe has been impotent for over a year, and not even the besotted advances of practically-betrothed student Jill (Stone) can wake him from his sad slumber. It’s only when Abe and Jill overhear a bawling mother on the losing end of a fixed custody battle complain about a cruel judge that Abe suddenly finds a good reason to live. As he plots his own dose of justice, Abe’s lust for life, and for women, is firmly rekindled…

THE VERDICT: Playing like a mute Match Point, Woody is delves deeper into straight drama here, his lust for crimes and misdemeanours having produced some of his finest latter-day films. Then again, it’s hard to define what constitutes a latter-day film when it comes to Woody Allen, given that the little bugger is so darn prolific. One a year. Bejiggers, he makes Neil Young seem positively lackadaisical.

Some of the long-running obsessions remain, such as that old Pygmailion, tragi-comedy magic, with yet another jaded-verging-on-jaundiced professor turning one of his bright young mini-skirted things into a nymphomaniac with every swish of his corduroy hair. Here, at least, the older professor is played by someone under 95, with Allen surrogate Joacquin Phoenix no doubt still capable of lighting a few nerd chick fires, even with such a proud paunch. Stone fits the Allen muse role well, being another cute-as-a-button actress clearly keen to make smart-as-a-whip career choices. Posey is well-cast too. RATING: 4/5

Review by Paul Byrne

IRRATIONAL MAN
4.0Overall Score
  • filmbuff2011

    There’s something warm and cosily familiar about a Woody Allen film. When those distinctive white titles on black start up, you know you’re in Allenland. It’s a good place to be. Irrational Man conforms to many of Allen’s directorial traits, but he still finds ways to surprise audiences. Abe (Joaquin Phoenix) has taken up a position as a philosophy professor in a new university. But something troubles him. He’s a philosophy professor in an existential crisis (ha-ha) and is looking for some purpose to drive his otherwise meaningless life. Having an affair with fellow lecturer Rita (Parker Posey) doesn’t seem to be helping. That’s where enthusiastic student Jill (Emma Stone) comes in. Attending his classes, she finds him strangely attractive and wants to get to know the real Abe. But he resists, knowing that she has a boyfriend and student-lecturer relationships are frowned upon by the faculty. Overhearing a conversation in a diner with Jill, Abe hits upon the idea of committing pre-meditated murder: that of a judge who has treated a mother poorly in the courtroom. Is it just to kill a bad person who has done bad things? Just even thinking about it might bring him out of his malaise – or put him into an even deeper one… While it’s not quite classic Allen, in the sense of Annie Hall, Manhattan or Hannah And Her Sisters, Irrational Man is not far off from arguably his best film of the last decade – Match Point. The consequences of murder and how it changes people’s opinions and relationships is a key point here. But there’s a lighter touch here than Match Point or Crimes And Misdemeanors which makes it less effective when it comes to delivery. Phoenix is perfectly cast. His sad-sack face is ideal for one of Allen’s tortured geniuses. Stone, as ever, is delightful and makes her character a bit more rounded than she initially appears. The interplay between them is fun to watch, as we wonder if Jill will twig to what’s really happened to Abe. Familiar Allen tropes like the love of literature, the life of academia and the nature of fate round out the story. Turning 80 on 1st December, Allen shows no signs of slowing down. His consistency of making one film a year is admirable, like an old friend who comes to visit on an annual basis and leaves you waiting for the next visit. Fans of Allen’s work will know what to expect with Irrational Man. It’s a got a great, entirely appropriate, ending too. ***