Film Review – Irrational Man
Woody Allen’s latest film is Irrational Man. Allen takes a down and out philosophy professor, Abe (Joaquin Phoenix), and places him at a small liberal arts college. There he becomes the talk of the very small college community where rumors run wild about what happened to him to make him so disenchanted with the world. Fellow professor Rita (Parker Posey) immediately becomes enamored with this mysterious lost soul (or so she thinks). He also manages to strike up a friendship with a student, Jill (Emma Stone), who wishes she could be much more to him. The central theme is the subject of philosophy or “the study of ideas about knowledge, truth, the nature and meaning of life, etc.”
While not a fan of most of Woody Allen’s work, you have to hand it to this writer/director, he brings the acting talent and a quirky story to life in his films. In Irrational Man, he juxtaposes a well-known philosopher who studies the various meanings of life against that same man who has essentially lost the will to happily exist. This guy is being paid to teach students about life, but he has given up on his. He is basically trudging through life.
Everything changes when Jill and Abe overhear a conversation between a mother and friends talking about her horrible divorce, custody issues, and the awful judge at the center of her frustration. Through talking about the situation with Jill, Abe becomes convinced that taking this judge’s life is the key to getting his life back on track. He thinks this is the perfect crime and he becomes giddy over planning it. Yes, you guessed it. He is finding the meaning of his life again by taking a life. This is ironic (and hilarious), no?
Joaquin Phoenix is a perfect Abe. Handsome, but disheveled, he wears a beer gut well. He plays up his character’s shortcomings and self-degradation perfectly. Yeah, he is still attractive, and you can see why his damaged goods are so intriguing and attractive to Jill and Rita. Emma Stone plays Jill with this obnoxious, know-it-all air to her that I was immediately not very sympathetic to her character. She is that girl in college that you might sit next to in class and have a few chats with, but would never hang out with her willingly due to her constant yammering about philosophy and her newest infatuation, which in this case is Abe. She does the wide-eyed doey look so well.
Irrational Man is a good film if you know what you are walking into, a college-set film about infatuation, life, depression, and murder. It has quite a few laughs, some just because of how absurd Jill and Abe are about life in this town. This is not an outright comedy, but a smart drama with laughs that annoys at the same time. I just wish the film wasn’t about philosophy in a liberal arts college. It is not the most stimulating of subjects or settings. The ending is superb, almost too perfect. Woody Allen has the ability to create some great characters and I would put Jill and Abe in that list. The over-dramatization of some of the reactions, scenarios, and characters makes it a signature Woody Allen film.