Film Review – Irrational Man (2015)

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About an hour or so into Woody Allen’s Irrational Man, Joaquin Phoenix’s alcoholic philosophy professor wryly dismisses much of his chosen profession as ‘verbal masturbation’. As Allen’s latest, inconsequential offering plods into its final third you start to think that the true might be said of much of his own recent output. I had complained last year that Magic in the Moonlight was a prime example of Allen repeating himself. With Irrational Man, Allen has done little to sway my opinion that, at this relatively late stage of his career, his is content to do little more than coast.

Disillusioned, depressed and stinking of whisky from the get-go, Phoenix’s shambling drunk pitches up at a leafy New England college to take up his new position in the philosophy department. Despite suffering from an existential crisis, Phoenix is clearly a draw for the female members of staff and prodigious student Jill (Emma Stone). He quickly begins a relationship with dissatisfied colleague Rita (Parker Posey in a fairly thankless and near-demeaning role) but finds his life continually lacking meaning. That is, until he chances upon a down-and-out woman in a local eatery and hatches a plan that succeeds in focusing and reenergising his life.

So, another year and another Woody Allen movie in which a talented, yet unfulfilled and misunderstood enigma attracts the attentions of an impossibly smart and beautiful younger woman. Given his past body of work, Allen has a lot of room for manoeuvre, but there’s something undeniably disgruntling about seeing him tread water in such a fashion. Allen has the ability to weave hugely entertaining narratives and pepper them with heartfelt moments of anxiety-ridden comedy, but little of that is apparent with Irrational Man. Phoenix’s professor, despite a suitably shaggy performance and a great opening and closing scene, is a fairly undistinguished creation.

Posey’s down-at-heel academic throws herself at Phoenix in such an undignified fashion, that one wonders why she took the role. Her male-gaze fantasy attack on Phoenix’s person is trumped by Stone’s doe-eyed young girl though, who, somewhat implausibly, chases him around campus inciting a collective sense of voyeuristic creepiness from the audience. A very late twist succeeds in erasing some nagging sense futility, but it’s quite possibly too little, too late to elevate Irrational Man to anything above a future forgotten Allen offering.

Chris Banks

Drama | USA, 2015 | 15| Warner Bros UK | 11th September 2015 (UK) |Dir.Woody Allen | Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, Parker Posey,Jamie Blackley