6 Aug 2015

Irrational Man - film review

From At The Movies, 7:40 pm on 6 August 2015

Irrational Man - Directed by Woody Allen, starring Emma Stone, Joaquin Phoenix

Simon Morris reviews yet another Woody Allen film, Irrational Man, to find out what happens when a neurotic Woody Allen hero suddenly cheers up?

If there’s one writer-director you’d be crazy to bet on, it’s Woody Allen. He’s made over 50 movies now – about one a year – and his track-record is alarmingly unpredictable. It could be great – like the recent Midnight in Paris and Blue Jasmine.  It could be awful – anyone remember Scoop or Hollywood ending?  Or it could simply be extremely ordinary, like his last film, Magic in the Moonlight, and this week’s Irrational Man.

It’s tempting to blame Emma Stone - the star of those two movies and Woody Allen’s latest young, beautiful muse – but a bit unfair. Emma’s the best thing in Irrational man, playing that familiar Woody character - the young, would-be intellectual young woman, falling under the spell of an older man.

The older man is played by Joaquin Phoenix as burnt-out philosophy teacher Abe Lucas. Abe’s got a bad-boy reputation, but he’s also suffering from existential angst.  No wonder all the ladies are champing at the bit, we’re told.

Now Woody has been here before. In his good films, the characters take over and guide the plot into new and unexpected directions. In Irrational man, Woody Allen seems content to kick around the basic argument. Can you be satisfied by simply thinking a problem to death, or is it better to do something to break out of your intellectual funk?

Finally Woody adds the element of chance into the mix. Suddenly Irrational Man switches from a Philosophy 101 lecture to a sort of comedy crime caper, which is hardly an improvement.

If the underlying idea were remotely fresh and interesting, it might be tempting to go with it. And if the hard-working actors were given more to work with, we might at least have something to distract us. But it isn’t, and they aren’t. Irrational man is simply Woody vamping, and it suffers from the one unforgivable sin a story can have – a rotten ending. 

I’d say, save your money for Woody Allen’s next film – he’s just about due a good one.