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‘Irrational Man’ out of Woody Allen’s norm
Joaquin Phoenix as Abe Lucas
Emma Stone as Jill
Parker Posey as Rita
Jamie Blackley as Roy
*Note, this review contains mild spoilers for the film
Philosophy. Romance. Young love. Teacher-student relationships. These are among the trademarks of a Woody Allen film, and are used once again in “Irrational Man,” which opened its wide release on Aug. 7. However, while it touches upon some themes previously used by Allen, the film is much different than his usual work.
Filmed at Brown University and across Providence, R.I., the setting provides a more relaxed version of upper-class society, different from that of his traditional New York City setting. Beaches are clean and well-kept, party houses feature valuable artwork and the students’ parties feature wine and beer instead of shots.
Although the film features a lively atmosphere, it focuses on a nihilistic philosophy professor named Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix). Nihilism is a philosophy that suggests that nothing in life carries any significant meaning or reason to exist. His writings have become famous around the world, and his tragic past has made him severely depressed. His thoughtful yet melancholy personality leads him into romantic relationships with Jill (Emma Stone), a student, and Rita (Parker Posey), a fellow professor. However, both of these women are in committed relationships, despite Jill’s efforts to downplay her boyfriend, Roy (Jamie Blackley).
Despite the women’s efforts to seduce him, it is only when Abe stumbles upon an opportunity to murder a corrupt judge that he feels a renewed purpose in life.
The film seems to drag during the first twenty minutes because Abe Lucas is a sad and pathetic character and you may find yourself questioning what women see in him. Much like Abe’s twisted reason to live, the film kicks into gear when Abe plots to murder the judge. It is so intense to see whether Abe can pull off the murder because not only is he psychotically driven commit to it, but he deludes himself into thinking it’s the only way he can be happy again.
This film has an upbeat and exciting vibe and is not as subdued as Allen’s usual relationship comedies. Unlike most of his romances, many of the initial scenes with Jill and Abe are presented romantically. Their dates and conversations are joyful and fun rather than having awkward silences or a feeling their relationship is doomed.
However, this film is not as comedic as other Woody Allen films. A lot of his humor is subjective and typically makes or breaks people’s enjoyment of his films. I personally felt that the jokes were incorporated to make this dark plot somewhat light and airy. The film acknowledges how heavy the act of murder is and how selfish Abe’s motivations are, but it does not bog down the viewer with melancholy facts.
One of the challenges of making a Woody Allen film is finding actors who can read his prose without coming across as stiff. Jamie Blackley and even the seasoned veteran, Joaquin Phoenix, have trouble with it at times, but Emma Stone has proven herself a natural at his prose. It’s only her second film with Allen, and she reads her lines as if she’d been Jill her whole life. She has come a long way since her “Superbad” days and is well-suited at being Woody Allen’s newest muse.
Allen has never made a film as colorful as this. After the familiar white-on-black introductory credits, cinematographer Darius Khondji expertly shoots the film with luscious green in the parks and shadows at a sunny beach. Special mention goes to a sequence in a funhouse mirror entrance, where the flashy lights can’t show how unnerving Jill and Abe’s affair can be.
“Irrational Man” is not Woody Allen’s funniest film, and some of the dialogue could have been edited (“My name is Abe Lucas, and I have murdered,” is an actual line from one of its monologues). However, with a suspenseful plot, a romance that the audience can actually care about and the performance of Emma Stone’s career, Woody Allen has crafted another hit.