Irrational Man | ★★★
Woody Allen’s 47th film, ‘Irrational Man’, sticks to several themes he’s already explored in a few of his previous films, and is not one of his best.
An older man being pursued by a younger woman is a plot device that Allen has presented to us many times before (Magic in the Moonlight and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger). In Irrational Man, Joaquin Phoenix plays pot-bellied depressed middle age philosophy professor Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix).
He’s the newest teacher at a small town college in Rhode Island. He’s single and doesn’t seem to have much going for him. However, two women vie for his attention; unhappily married fellow teacher Rita (Parker Posey) who fantasises them running away together to Spain, and student Jill (Emma Stone). Jill is in Abe’s philosophy class, and she is mesmerized by his teachings and his stance on life. They start to spend lots of time together outside of the classroom, much to the dismay of Jill’s perfect boyfriend Roy (Jamie Blackley). Abe tries and tries to resist the urge to sleep with Jill, though he has no trouble having sex with Rita.
However, Abe’s relationship with Jill is becoming stronger and stronger, until he can no longer resist her, and they eventually sleep together. Jill is so smitten with Abe that she breaks the news to her boyfriend Roy that she wants to break up. The plot then takes a turn: one day at a diner Abe and Jill overhear a woman talking about a local judge who has ruled against her in a divorce proceeding and has awarded custody of her kids to her husband. She also tells the people she is with how the judge has destroyed her life. At this point Abe decides he’s going to do something about this woman’s problem. His decision rejuvenates him, it transforms him from someone who is aimless and depressed to someone who is full of life and energetic. And he actually does go through with his plan. Of course his actions are irrational, but to him they are rational. But does he think he’s pulled off the perfect crime?
There’s not much more to the film’s plot which is probably why it’s only 95 minutes. But Allen does get more from his actors than what the script provides. Phoenix is perfectly cast as the loner professor who struggles with his identity but is lucky enough to have two attractive women vying for his attention. Stone overdoes it a bit as Jill, the student who has a good thing going with Roy but sees something attractive in Abe that we don’t see. Stone played a similar role in Allen’s last film – Magic in the Moonlight – falling for Colin Firth’s much older character. Posey is a delight as Rita, fantasising about a life with Lucas in Europe.
But Allen’s script doesn’t provide much magic, it’s humdrum at the very best in a film that can be categorized as not one of his best. It also won’t have much box office appeal here in the UK- in the U.S. the film has made a measly $3.7 million – a far cry fromMagic in the Moonlight’s total gross of $32 million. At age 79, we’re sure there’s lots more films in Woody Allen’s repertoire to redeem himself from this one.