Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 18, 2016)
Now 80, Woody Allen continues to crank out movies. We find his newest effort via 2015’s Irrational Man.
Set at fictional “Braylin College” in New England, philosophy professor Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix) arrives as a new hire and finds himself at self-described emotional rock bottom. His seedy reputation precedes him at Braylin, especially with the female students, who seem eager to meet the notorious – and attractive - professor.
Alas, Abe’s mopey state renders him unable to perform in the sack. Still, Abe launches into a relationship with student Jill Pollard (Emma Stone) – even if they can’t consummate matters in a carnal way, they enjoy each others’ company. Eventually Abe experiences a revelation that also wakes him up below the border.
Has Woody Allen ever made a movie without self-infatuated intellectuals? Yeah, but that theme pervades much of Allen’s material, and it can cause a drag. At least Irrational Man seems aware of this trend, as occasionally feels like it mocks these sorts of smug folks.
Barely, that is. At first, Irrational Man shows hints that it wants to wink at the notion of the depressed, nihilistic professor, but before long, it collapses under the weight of its pretensions. Allen seems to smirk at the participants less and embrace them more.
If Abe, Jill or any of the others offered compelling personalities, this would be okay, but they remain one-dimensional. Even after Abe’s “awakening”, he remains a thin character. Neither he nor Jill really develop, as they continue to come across as archetypes and nothing more.
The story doesn’t help. Irrational Man offers more of a “plot concept” than a fleshed out narrative, so it never develops into a fluid, coherent tale. It’s just a collection of connected vignettes without a lot of positive movement.
Phoenix, Stone and the supporting actors fail to elevate their roles, but I can’t blame them. Allen saddles the performers with such stiff, “scripted” dialogue that the lines stumble out of their mouths. The actors seem unconvinced by their lines, and so will the audience.
Honestly, it’s hard to believe an experienced filmmaker like Allen wrote this script. Irrational Man feels more like a first screenplay from a neophyte. It’s not a good look for Allen, and this becomes a disappointing effort.