Thursday, August 20, 2015

Movie Review #297: "Irrational Man" (2015)

Movie"Irrational Man"
Director: Woody Allen
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 36 minutes
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A philosophy professor named Abe (Joaquin Phoenix) sees no meaning to life and has lost the will to live. But one day, after overhearing a woman's conversation about a bitter custody battle in a diner while at breakfast with his student and illicit affair Jill (Emma Stone), he has an epiphany and finds meaning in life by helping this woman in an unimaginable way. 

Now that Woody Allen is getting too old to play the romantic lead in his own films, he has had a penchant for casting other men to be the older and intellectual love interest for the film's always much younger lead actress. The actress Allen has had his eye on and tapped for his last two films is Emma Stone. This time around, the age difference between her and Joaquin Phoenix is far less dramatic than it was between her and Colin Firth in last year's "Magic in the Moonlight," but it is still quite apparent the age difference is sizable. Woody Allen's films seem to always be a kind of therapy for him. They are almost always about whatever he is likely dealing with at that time in his life behind the camera. This particular movie is about a philosophy professor named Abe, played by Joaquin Phoenix, who has lost the will to live as he is deeply depressed and drinks heavily. Abe has also lost the will to love as he deals with impotence and a lack of spark and desire. Art imitating life, much? Abe happens to find meaning and a purpose in life in the form of wanting to kill a man to make a suffering woman's life better. Abe has never met the man, a judge, he plans to murder, or the desperate woman he plans to help, which he believes will make him almost impossible to catch since he has no ties or affiliations to anyone involved. "Irrational Man" explores the philosophical question, 'is there a time when murder would ever be okay?' Abe tries to rationalize his crime by saying the world would be a better place without this judge in it, but we're almost positive that there are murderers out there who have attempted to justify their actions through some false, moral high ground. We aren't here to debate the morality of the actions of the characters on screen, though a dry dark comedy plot like this will certainly deter some viewers as the justification for murder might be a touchy subject to some.

All of the acting here is very solid. Joaquin Phoenix, who doesn't seem to ever do a whole heck of a lot of films each year, does a good job as a man of philosophy who is depressed and suicidal. Once his life is rejuvenated by the possibility of helping someone, on the flip side, he portrays a man who has found new meaning in life, and he does this well, too. Emma Stone captures the fawning student well as her intrigue for the mystery that is her professor overpowers her rational thought. As a character, though, it's hard to get over how desperate she is. I mean, come on, we've all had that one professor who intrigued you to no end, right? But most of us wouldn't spend our days going on hikes and waxing poetic with them, bating them into a tryst when it's obvious you're already in a relationship. Parker Posey is another sexual interest of Abe's as she too has become intrigued by his reputation. She is another committed woman and professor at the same university who essentially gravels at Abe's feet, begging to sleep with him the second she gets a chance. This is certainly a consistency in this particular movie, and the women here throw themselves at Abe, yet he can never be bothered to truly actively pursue anyone.

As we mentioned, Woody Allen has been churning out these symbolic yet average movies for a while now, and we can't help but wonder when he's going to stop altogether. His films as of late (well, let's be real, as of always) have come off as overly academic. Allen seems to fancy himself an intellectual, a pedantic New Yorker to the core, where he will be fastidious with some areas and yet lacking and willy-nilly in other portions of his films. Though the acting is good and the ending of this film is stronger than its first two-thirds, "Irrational Man" leaves something to be desired apart from the Philosophy 101 question, "if you're poor and starving, would you steal a loaf of bread to feed your family?" taken to the extreme. It's a mixed bag in the truest sense of the phrase. Maybe it's time he give it a rest for a while.

My Rating: 6/10
BigJ's Rating: 6/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 39%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

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