D/W: Woody Allen. DP: Darius Khondji. Starring: Joaquin Phoenix/Emma Stone/Parker Posey/Ethan Philips/Betsy Aidem/Jamie Blackley.
Many a critic will say or have said that Woody Allen has lost his touch. Many will endeavor to claim that he never had ‘a touch.’ Regardless where you lie on that spectrum, based on Irrational Man it is safe to say whatever he did or did not have had he certainly has lost now.
The film follows pot-bellied half-drunk slop of a philosophy professor, Abe (Phoenix), as he arrives to teach a summer session at a fictional liberal arts college. He soon befriends chemistry professor Rita (Posey) as well as student Jill (Stone). Through the first half of the film philosophical debates paired with silly love trysts bring the characters to the existential question of murder. Frankly, I think my plot description is better written than this film.
This is Allen’s follow up and reunion with Stone who was the lead in his last film, Magic in the Moonlight, but it is borderline unbearable. Both Jill and Abe provide needless voice-over to the entire story, even describing action that just occurred. Irrational Man functions more as a live reading of a book than a film or maybe something Allen wrote in a scotch induced rant when he wanted to write a novel. At a certain point you must relinquish to the silly.
Allen has given up casting himself as the messy male protagonist who dates women half or more his age. Here he gives us Phoenix in a boring forgettable role, sad as I thought he was fabulous in Inherent Vice. Phoenix lacks chemistry with Stone though you can tell they are trying their best. But Stone’s Jill is an infuriating young woman who in the same conversation flatters Abe for ordering for her yet then wants to assert her own opinions. Stone’s performance in Birdman will probably be her best for awhile based on these choices. And even as much as I like Parker Posey she can’t do much here.
Filmed entirely in Rhode Island, Irrational Man‘s setting is gorgeous. The campus used looks quintessentially American New England liberal arts elite with enough greenery to make you salivate. Some scenes on the shore help to distract from the pomposity of the characters discussion, but they cannot save the film. By the end Irrational Man is a laugh, a farce and another installment in the bad Allen in the vaults of cinematic history.