"There was no question that there was something lighter about Abe. His spirit was up, he seemed more focussed and yet for some reason, it bothered me."Woody Allen really enjoys his social misfits doesn’t he? He may be perhaps one of the greatest names in cinematic comedy, back in his day and today in fact. ‘Blue Jasmine’ is a more recent example of course, but it ponders into a deeper philosophical drama and in ‘Annie Hall’ he is playing the social misfit. Now he has Joaquin Phoenix to be a social misfit and when you’re talking about philosophical drama it always gives you an early boost if your main character is a professor of philosophy.
A philosophy professor (Phoenix) is in a deep rut, having lost all of his confidence in both the purpose and meaning of his subject. He finds no solution amid drugs and alcohol but amid some interaction with a brilliant young student (Emma Stone) he theorises a plan that may give his life purpose again.
I should say that the advertising campaign behind this movie is simply awful. The plot summary describes it as more of a quirky rom-com, but I’d say that in reality it’s more like a Hitchcockian thriller with some Woody Allen twists in it. There’s a dark comic wit to it that both filmmakers have infused within their work before (‘Manhattan’, ‘Crimes and Misdemeanours’), and there’s a lot of metaphysical scenes to back it up that Woody in particular excels at, usually. It’s hard not to give away why ‘Irrational Man’ is suitable for that description without giving too much of the plot away because if I was to do so then I may risk taking away that surprise of the actual structure of the film as when you realise that it’s going in that particular direction you can’t help but laugh a little.
It does breeze through some very dark material rather lightly, in fact maybe a little too lightly. Though there are some interesting themes and ideas on display here, none of them are explored in detail. It would make sense to gloss over certain elements to maintain a consistent tone but at the same time it doesn’t feel like any aspects are examined in a three dimensional way. As I said before Allen has experience in mixing the thrills and quirkiness and in many ways that acts as yet another problem for ‘Irrational Man’, it’s the same old story. We’ve seen this before and though it’s entertaining, it’s undeniably trivial and overly light.
Of course one can make the argument that Woody Allen’s filmography is so impressive that anything less interesting than the likes of ‘Annie Hall’ or ‘Hannah and her Sisters’ would appear mediocre as opposed to good. That is a fair assumption, am I judging this film based on its own merits or compared to previous Allen pictures? I would say I’m looking at it and coming to a conclusion based on the singular achievements it accomplishes on its own. Honestly it just feels extremely lacklustre, and not just compared to other attempts by… (You know what, I’ve mentioned his name so many times in this review I’m just going to stop now) that director.
What other names are involved? Well Joaquin Phoenix makes for an likeable lead, if anything he just makes me more frustrated as I feel that an actor of his calibre would easily handle a more complex character study. Though he is a social misfit he avoids falling into the usual nervousness tactic of most actors and gives his sociopath some weight. Emma Stone does bring some youthful energy to the mix as well but their chemistry feels a little lacking, repetitive and sadly predictable. This coming from the writer that reinvented romantic-comedy conversations.
Whether it’s entertaining or not will depend on your frame of mind entering it, but even then only the most devout followers of its director will find a huge amount of enjoyment out of ‘Irrational Man’.