Irrational Man: lukewarm and tempered

Let’s talk about irrationality. Or to be more specific let’s talk about the film Irrational Man; Woody Allen’s most recent entry into the Indie movie world. However with so many big hitters in one film, calling it an indie movie might be a bit of an understatement.

I am a fan of a few of Woody Allen’s films, but mostly because of the neuroses that runs through them all, and the fact that he always casts himself as the main character. If you’ve never seen a Woody Allen film, I don’t mean that he plays the lead in all of his films, just that whoever he casts as the lead always seems to be some not very hidden version of himself. He wouldn’t be the first filmmaker or artist to do this, but his personal level of introspection is pretty identifiable. The only exceptions to this Woody Allen rule in my opinion have been Cate Blanchettin Blue Jasmine, and parts of his most recent film, Irrational Man.

The latter has all the makings of the Woody Allen world; depressed, belly button searcher and philosophy professor played by the always enigmatic Joaquin Phoenix, with his much younger adoring student, played by Emma Stone. This is also a recurrent theme for Woody Allen; the main character who is extremely intellectual but pretty regular looking, supported by a younger woman, young enough in fact to be the lead’s daughter but always inexplicably in love with him (it doesn’t take a therapist to see the type of relationship Allen is constantly trying to normalize to society). Psychoanalysis aside though, standing alone this film was mildly entertaining.

Phoenix is not too heady with his words, and is the right amount of psychologically complex that you can get on board and even identify with. He’s the talk of the university town as the eclectic philosopher who’s lived a life inside and outside the classroom. He finds a quick admirer in Stone and we watch the inevitable unfold as they form a friendship and she tries to get him to sleep with her (not quite as believable a scenario as Allen would have liked I think).

What makes Phoenix the Irrational Man is not his personality but what he does in the film, which gets dark and twisty all at once but never steers away from the constant internal warring of the main characters, aided by the narration throughout the film by Stone. Her relationship with Phoenix plays out as if he is a mystery to be solved, perhaps in an attempt to make him more appealing as a character.

Another indication of the Woody Allen stamp though, is the lack of moral centre of all the characters. From Stone discarding her long time, all-too-understanding boyfriend for the bad boy charm of Phoenix, to Parker Posey as a fellow academic taking the first opportunity that her husband and fellow scholar is away, to offer herself to Phoenix, depressed and disengaged as he is. Infidelity always gives a story a bit of spice, but it’s the flimsy, unemotional way that partners are picked up and discarded that makes this quintessentially a Woody Allen film. I’m not saying he’s emotionally unevolved but…that’s kind of what I’m saying.

I give it 2 blue skies because Woody Allen fans may have enjoyed the regular themes in Irrational Man that they’re used to seeing, but for me it was very formulaic and reflective of his earlier films (where he often played the lead romancing too young girls – I’m speaking specifically about Mariel Hemingway in Manhattan and yes, I found it creepy); barring an unexpected twist that lifted and carried the film to its somewhat abrupt conclusion.

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Maame Blue

Writer| Poet| Blogger| Ghanaian by heart, Londoner by nature

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