Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Review: Phoenix is the Man in Woody Allen's "IRRATIONAL MAN"

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 51 of 2023 (No. 1940) by Leroy Douresseaux

Irrational Man (2015)
Running time:  95 minutes (1 hour, 35 minutes)
MPAA –  R for some language and sexual content
PRODUCERS:  Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum, and Edward Walson
EDITOR:  Alisa Lepselter


Starring:  Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, Parker Posey, Joe Stapleton, Nancy Carroll, Betsy Aidem, Ethan Phillips, Jamie Blackley, Nancy Giles, and Tom Kemp

Irrational Man is a 2015 comedy-drama, romance, and mystery film written and directed by Woody Allen.  The film focuses on a college professor who finds the will to live after committing the act of murder and the young student who falls deeply in love with him.

Philosophy professor Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix) arrives in Newport, Rhode Island with some acclaim.  He joins the faculty of (fictional) Braylin College where he will teach “ethical strategies.”  Abe is depressed, is experiencing an existential crisis, and sees no meaning in his life.  He drinks excessively and considers suicide.

Despite his tormented state, Abe catches the attention of two women.  The first is chemistry professor, Rita Richards (Parker Posey), and the second is Jill Pollard (Emma Stone), one of his students.  Each is crazy about him in her own way.  Abe's relationship with the two really goes nowhere … at first.

Abe hatches the idea of murdering Judge Thomas Augustus Spangler (Tom Kemp), an unethical family court judge who is plotting to take the custody of her children away from a woman.  Plotting and committing murder has given Abe's life a sense of purpose that he has not felt in ages.  For various reasons, however, both Rita and Jill suspect Abe of Judge Spangler's murder.

Coup de chance, the film Woody Allen says will likely be his final directorial effort, was released in France in September (2023).  Because of the controversies surrounding Allen the last few decades, especially the last five years, the film may not get a U.S. theatrical release.  In anticipation of seeing Coup de chance, I have decided to watch the recent Woody Allen films that I missed, beginning with the most recent that I had not seen, Irrational Man.

Some of Woody Allen's films have previously focused on a lead character who is involved in murder or commits murder.  Examples include Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) and Match Point (2005).  Having murder as subplot gives Allen's films an edge they don't normally have.  Irrational Man seems to drift with no purpose until Abe Lucas actually commits murder, and suddenly this film seems like a totally different movie from what it was during its first half.  Frankly, Irrational Man seems to be asleep for at least half its runtime.

I find myself entirely sympathetic with Phoenix's Abe Lucas.  Of course, I would feel differently if this were a real murder victim that was friends or family to me.  As it is, I find myself really liking the post-crime Abe Lucas, and I found his later, darker turn to be a bit alluring.

Phoenix gives life to a character that Allen does not develop very well.  As the narrative moves towards its conclusion, Phoenix makes Abe feel richer, and the character might have improved even more with a longer runtime, more because of what Phoenix would do rather than what Allen would not.  Emma Stone is whiny and unlikable as Jill Pollard, but Parker Posey makes the best of horny Rita Richards.  I wish Rita had more screen time.

Irrational Man is strictly for Woody Allen fans, although Phoenix is the one who saves this film and uplifts it.  So Joaquin Phoenix fans may find something in Irrational Man to like, also.

6 of 10
★★★ out of 4 stars

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

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