Bored with life? Have you considered murdering somebody? Woody Allen’s new film, Irrational Man, features Joaquin Phoenix as Abe Lucas, a philosophy professor in the midst of an existential crisis. Despite being considered brilliant and drawing the affection of a cute student (Emma Stone) and a very forward faculty member (Parker Posey), Abe fails to find any purpose in life. He’s not amused and he’s not enthused. He’s stuck in a funk and goes through the motions drunk, openly drinking from his flask on campus. He has a Dostoyevskian worldview, and he matter-of-factly spouts sentiments like, “much of philosophy is verbal masturbation.”
Things change for Abe when he and Jill (Stone) are dining out and they overhear a mother complaining about her divorce hearing. She’s upset because a crooked judge favors her scumbag ex-husband in the custody battle and she declares, “I hope the judge gets cancer.” Moved by this stranger, Abe considers murdering the judge himself in an anonymous act of vigilante justice. The thought of killing gives him a thrill and he looks at it as an act of creative artistry. He now has a purpose and he feels completely reinvigorated. Can he plan and commit the perfect murder?
Irrational Man is similar to two other Woody Allen films with murderous plots, Crimes and Misdemeanors and Match Point. It also brings to mind parts of Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt and Dial M for Murder. Those films all manage to set specific tones though, and tonally, Irrational Man is all over the place. It feels too serious at times and too silly/ridiculous at others. It romanticizes killing in a way that is darkly comedic in spots, and conversely creepy in others; the intention isn’t always clear. The movie has a serious setup and a whimsical ending. It all feels a bit underdeveloped and the reasons Abe decides to consider murdering a stranger are flimsy at best. Stone and Posey try their hardest in thankless roles as characters that don’t ring true.
Despite it’s flaws, it’s not a total bust for Woody Allen fans. I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for his work. The Windsor EF Elongated typeface that he uses for the titles and credits in a majority of his movies, the beautiful “golden-glow” look that many of his films have, the catchy jazz soundtracks; all staples of his work that have the familiarity of a trip to the local diner. Woody Allen films are like comfort food and even the lesser outings like Irrational Man and last year’s Magic in the Moonlight go down with ease. At the pace he’s working, they can’t all be Midnight in Paris or Blue Jasmine, but I hope the octogenarian continues working and has a few more late-period classics in him. At this point in his career, it’s all gravy.
2.5 out of 5 Nerdskulls
Essential Viewing: Crimes and Misdemeanors, Match Point, Love and Death, Shadow of a Doubt, Dial M for Murder, Monsieur Verdoux
Irrational Man is now playing in Houston at Landmark River Oaks
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