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Irrational Man is Thin but Breezy Entertainment (Flack’s Review)

Posted on | August 22, 2015 | Add Comments

Irrational Man (2015)Irrational Man, Woody Allen’s 45th film, is a movie of contradictions: it’s likable but thin, exaggerated fun but also absurdly implausible.

The film begins as Abe Lucas, a potbellied philosophy professor at the end of his luck, arrives at a New England college called Braylin. He meets with the school president, who asks “Is everything alright?” and it’s hard not to instantly notice that something is off. Abe seems distracted and a little off balance. He suffers from alcohol and depression and his classroom lectures play out like dazed rants from a hardened old soul.

One of his students is Jill (Emma Stone), a bright and popular girl intrigued by Abe’s controversial writing and his rumored womanizing past. She quickly falls in love, to the chagrin of her suspicious boyfriend Roy (Jamie Blackley). Abe certainly likes Jill, but he’s hesitant to drag her into a doomed-from-start relationship. Of course, that’s exactly what he does; simultaneously, he’s having an affair with Rita, a fellow professor (Parker Posey).

Then Abe and Jill overhear a woman’s teary confession involving a lawyer she wishes were dead. Fed up with the lazy passiveness of modern life, he decides to turn his life around by murdering the lawyer. His attitude and outlook on life seem to brighten overnight, to the surprise of everyone around him. Little do they know his happiness is the effect of deception, murder, and some far-fetched trickery.

Irrational Man (2015)

Irrational Man‘s biggest flaw is Allen’s script, which plays out like a thin short story. Abe, Jill, and Rita (who’s barely a character) are senseless people and fairly one-dimensional, which makes it hard to connect to this character-driven story. The nicest person in the movie is probably Roy, who’s as preppy, predictable, and dull as a movie boyfriend can be.

That’s not to say the movie is unbearable. Abe’s park-set murder plan, the film’s central sequence, has a delightfully macabre tone. Emma Stone is likable and charmingly naive as Jill, which is just what the role calls for. And Rhode Islanders will have fun spotting some familiar locations.

About halfway through, Irrational Man begins to crumble. The tightrope-thin storyline reveals it’s flimsiness, while the film begins to drag. It doesn’t help that Jouaquin Phoenix doesn’t seem sure if this is a dark character study or a lightweight murder mystery and that Parker Posey is stuck with a sketch of a character. The movie falls into a jumble of cliches and interesting ideas that never get developed.

Irrational Man (2015)Then comes the climactic fight, which has an absurdly dark screwball tone the rest of the film could’ve benefited from. On the whole, this is a fairly minor movie from Woody Allen, who recently acknowledged (in a surprising but sensible interview) that he’s too lazy for greatness. It sounds crazy, but that’s a decent explanation for Irrational Man. It’s a low-key murder mystery that makes no attempt to be a deep character study or a memorable romantic comedy. “I’m lazy and an imperfectionist”, he told the interviewer. “Film-making is not the end-all be-all of my existence.” For the audience’s sake, however, it would be nice if he did give his all to a project. Maybe he’s just too busy coming up with new ideas to perfect a single film. (He’s returning to Los Angeles for the first time since Annie Hall for his next film, which he’s shooting now with Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, and Bruce Willis.) For now, though, we have Irrational Man. It certainly won’t brighten your spirits or get you thinking (the way Midnight in Paris and Annie Hall did). But it won’t send you out depressed with the movies, the way Abe feels towards life. Walk in with low expectations, and you might leave happily surprised.

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