Movie Review: “Irrational Man”

Irrational Man. Woody Allen film

“Irrational Man” – a film review by Gary Chew

If you’ve never worked in an academic environment, you know … a university campus, you’ll likely not grasp some of the nuanced humor unobtrusively woven into Woody Allen’s Irrational Man.

Since I was only on-campus staff (not faculty), the Wood Man’s jokes are even more obvious because his just out witty romp takes most of its time poking oblique fun at full blown professors and assorted lecturers, all weighed with advanced degrees if not post doctorate credentials. Oh yes … and a few students too.

Irrational Man Joaquin Phoenix disguises himself overtly as Abe, a newly arrived philosophy professor at a small college in Rhode Island. (You didn’t think Woody would set the story in Nebraska did you?) Abe’s taught at several campuses. He’s one of those Graham Greene kind of characters, you know … a burnt out case. Existentially, Abe, throughout his life, has been reading way too many heavy books … and while writing this script, I guess Woody had been reading Albert Camus’ A Happy Death. But there were giggles for me watching Irrational Man. Not even smiles exist in anything published under Camus’ name.

Abe is effectively pursued by two females as he launches his latest classroom act at the lectern: there’s Parker Posey doing a character called Rita. She’s faculty, married, but really “sitting on a stove” for Abe. Abe? Not so much. The past several years for him have been tough. Cialis is not out of the question for a portion of what distresses him.

The second female in pursuit is Jill, a student! (Woody’s sense of young womanhood is legend I’ve been told.) The astounding Emma Stone does Jill. I was thrilled with her all over again in Irrational Man, but I must confess, I had just seen – for the 5th time – Birdman, the night before I saw the Allen screening, so I may not have worn my best fitting chapeau for being impartial.

Irrational Man, Parker PoseyAs usual, the movie is Woody-lite, but suddenly takes an almost Happy Death turn when Abe and Jill overhear a next-booth coffee shop conversation regarding a mother being unfairly treated by a local judge who is about to legally take her children away from her and send them to the woman’s not-so-hot ex husband. Abe and Jill, being liberal, ethical, atheists and/or agnostics, are aghast at the woman’s circumstance. Abe, always moral even as he might be bordering on suicide, surreptitiously decides to whack the local judge. Yes! Violence in a Woody Allen movie, except for Match Point and maybe Interiors.

Phoenix apparently must be drawn to roles that require that the character he plays is a little bit weird. Joaquin does “weird” really well. Really. I like what he does and how he does it; some don’t. Stone just keeps on keepin’ on, standing out in whatever a new script brings on. She doesn’t seem to be acting … when she’s acting. I think that’s what it’s all about, Alfie.

Parker, for the first time, plays a rather sassy but middle-age woman who is the script’s real romantic, even so much as to want to leave her husband and buzz off with Abe to enjoy sunrises and sunsets over Spanish terrain. Parker always perks up a picture although, this time, we see her more mature — sort of.

I can recommend this movie to myself even if it isn’t as good as Allen’s recent pair, Blue Jasmine and Midnight in Paris — both of those were terrific. But I’m reluctant to suggest Irrational to the majority of people who go to movies nowadays. Tell me I’m crazy, but I’d much rather see Joaquin Phoenix enjoying the passage of time with Emma Stone and/or Parker Posey than Tom Cruise riding a very fast motorbike.

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Gary Chew
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