Like most Woody Allen films, Irrational Man made its debut at Cannes earlier this year where it followed the pattern of hit or miss: as his last film at Cannes was the critically acclaimed and Oscar-winning Blue Jasmine, the pattern continued and Irrational Man gained mixed reviews.
Woody Allen was notably sour throughout his time at the festival, but that could just be down to the auteur's personality. This is not to say that his latest effort is a bad movie, it’s not one of Allen’s best but not his worst either and a middling Woody Allen film is far superior to most offers you’ll find at the Box Office these days.
Joaquin Phoenix stars as the man in the title, Abe Lucas, a renowned philosophy professor but also kind of a depressed drinker in the middle of an existential crisis. He provides narration combining his woes with ones from great philosophers’ although he himself admits, “much of philosophy is verbal masturbation”. The film is also partly narrated by one of his students, Jill Pollard (Emma Stone), a girl enraptured by Abe’s mind and with a schoolgirl crush on the professor.
Those who are going to have a cynical approach to a Woody Allen film which focuses on an aging genius and his young muse may be surprised at what actually occurs between Jill and Abe. Allen has taken a pretty average story and some great twists that the characters go through that you are constantly thrown off by.
There is a romance but the focus is on death and how to confront it. Abe admits his apathy to Jill, puncturing the line “I couldn’t remember the reason for living and when I did, it wasn’t convincing”, but he finds a new zest for life, which is both intriguing and ludicrous.
There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments stemming from the absurd twists and macabre subject nature, juxtaposed against the beautifully warm and open New England coastline and towns.
Emma Stone and Joaquin Phoenix effortlessly lead the film in roles which are dramatic yet thin when put under the spotlight.
Stone stands out more as she has to contend with being daughter, friend, girlfriend and student throughout the film.
They’re joined by Parker Posey as Professor Rita Richards, a woman far more suited to Abe’s age and speed but her role as an ignored wife seeking affection is unfortunately side-lined by Abe and goes missing for a portion of the film.
Irrational Man is quirky, energised and funny, with an original script filled with the wit and charisma of a philosophy professor. Whilst it may seem quite straight-forward at first, the plot twists keep you engaged and not too focused on the translucent characters held up by a skeleton of existential quotes.
A fun jaunt through serious themes makes for a nice viewing experience and it's refreshing whenever we have the chance to watch something original for a change.
Irrational Man is released in UK cinemas on September 11th