If you’re depressed, sometimes, all you need is a little crime.
Philosophy professor Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix) isn’t exactly in the right place of his career, or his life currently. For one, he’s just taken up a new teaching job at a Rhode Island college, Braylin, for summer courses and he’s always bored. He’s also going through something of an existential crisis where he contemplates suicide daily and can’t seem to maintain an erection, even when he’s with the lovely and super horny Rita (Parker Posey). And now, to make matters worse, he’s starting to find himself fall head-over-heels for a student of his, Jill Pollard (Emma Stone), who feels strongly about him too, even though she’s already gotten a boyfriend (Jamie Blackley). Though Abe doesn’t want to have any sort of romantic relationship with Jill because it would be inappropriate and unprofessional of him, he still can’t seem to hold back on his affections. So basically, Abe is not feeling too happy about his life right now and needs something to wake him up from this metaphorical slumber and put him back on-track. What will wake him up, though? Or better yet, will it even be legal?
It’s hard to talk about a movie like Irrational Man, because from what I know, not many people know about the twist that occurs about half-way through. Even though it was definitely hinted at in the months of pre-production and filming, many people I have spoken to, or at least have read reviews of, claim to have not known anything of the twist. Honestly, that surprises me a bit, but because I am a nice, kind, and generous human being, I will decide to hold back on spoiling anything related to the twist.
Which is a shame, because it surely makes this movie a lot harder to review now.
But what I will say about Irrational Man, in relation to that twist, is that when it comes around and shakes things up, Woody Allen’s writing gets a whole lot sharper. What’s interesting about a lot of Woody Allen’s movies is that they’re very hard to classify as “dramas” or “comedies”. He’s definitely had many that are either the latter, or a combination of both, but he doesn’t quite do the former nearly as much as he should. Even though Cassandra’s Dream was a bust, Match Point and Crimes and Misdemeanors forever rank as two of his better movies because they show Woody Allen in a different light than ever before. Sure, he may be able to deliver on the funny when need be, but when he wants to deliver a dark, sad and sometimes harrowing story, he can still hang with the best of them, even if there is a small wink at the audience every now and then.
And with Irrational Man, it seems as if he’s definitely come back to being slap dab in the middle of being a comedy, but with many, many dramatic undertones. Sometimes, that can cause a bit of a problem with this movie as it’s never full-known whether Allen himself is intentionally trying to make a drama, or if a lot of his dialogue just comes off in an incredibly stilted way, that it seems like comedy, but either way, there’s something more interesting here to watch than there is in say, something like To Rome With Love. Even if the bar isn’t set very high with that one, it’s still worth pointing out as a lot of Allen’s recent movies are very hit-or-miss nowadays.
Still though, there’s a lot to like here.
With Allen soon approaching 80, it’s not as if he really has anything new or interesting to say about life, love, relationships, poetry, literature, or anything else that’s discussed in his sorts movies, but there’s still something entertaining about the way in how these characters talk to one another. While the philosophical squabbles don’t really go anywhere, it’s interesting to see the likes of Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone deliver them to one another; the dialogue may not be as sharp as a tack, but it’s something different than what we’ve seen from these two before and it offers some entertainment just based solely on that level. There are bits that are funny, as well as there are ones that are just plain dramatic, but no matter what, it’s neat to see how Allen, no matter what number movie he’s on, seems to get certain stars to deliver his dialogue to the best of his ability.
And with that said, Phoenix himself is pretty good here in a lighter role than from what we’re used to seeing from him. Phoenix doesn’t too often get to do comedy nowadays, and while he isn’t exactly supposed to be the most hilarious guy in the room here, there’s still some shadings of slight humor to be found if you look closely and deep into the cracks of this character and this performance. At the same time though, there’s still a lot going on with this character that’s a tad unsettling, and it just goes to show you the kind of talent that Phoenix is, to where he’s able to make you laugh along with him, as well as be disgusted by him as well.
The perfect antihero if there ever was one; something that Allen doesn’t write much of anymore.
Stone is quite good here, too, and gets to show that she’s a bit better at handling Allen’s dialogue than she was able to do in Magic in the Moonlight. The only problem that there is to be found with this character is that, sometime by the end, she goes through a change that makes her go from this lovable, doe-eyed and naive schoolgirl, to this Nancy Drew-like character who picks up on all sorts of clues that are miraculously dropped in her way. Once again, I’m being as vague about this fact as humanly possible, but it is something that didn’t seem too believable to me, even if Stone does try her hardest to make it work.
Because no matter what, it’s hard to hate this face. Maybe this face, but not this one.
Okay, I’m done now with my crush.
Consensus: A tad darker than most of Allen’s recent outputs, Irrational Man is slightly uneven, but benefits from solid performances from the cast and a smart twist that keeps certain themes from growing old.
7.5 / 10