REVIEW: Irrational Man

27 07 2015

Irrational ManThe summer of 2015 will likely go down in the record books as one that saw long overdue leaps and bounds for women in cinema.  They fought back against the patriarchy in “Mad Max: Fury Road,” ruled the roost in comedy with the one-two punch of “Spy” and “Trainwreck,” and the girl power in front of (as well as behind) the camera in “Pitch Perfect 2” made for the most overperforming sequel of the summer.  Even the two highest-grossers, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “Jurassic World,” could not escape harsh scrutiny for the way they treated their leading ladies.

Apparently, Woody Allen did not get the memo.  The legendary writer and director deposits ideas as they come in a shoebox, often returning there for inspiration at a later date. His annual feature for 2015, “Irrational Man,” could not be a more inopportune grab from the pile.  Coming at a time where people finally expect female characters to resemble fully-fleshed people, his writing feels hopelessly retrograde and outdated.

The dynamic between his two leads feels quite familiar to anyone even slightly versed in Allen’s work.  At the center lies a man of conventional looks yet unconventional smarts, a role played here by Joaquin Phoenix as Abe Lucas.  His performance thankfully resists the easy temptation to resemble a Woody Allen caricature; Phoenix appears as if he is still emerging from the haze of “I’m Still Here.”  His depressive, alcoholic philosophy professor also looks about seven months pregnant, to boot.

In the universe according to Woody Allen, such a brilliant intellect should naturally draw the interest of women – young, attractive, nubile ones in particular.  Emma Stone assumes this part in “Irrational Man,” and no amount of her charm or grace can effectively mask just how one-dimensional her character Jill really is.  Allen makes it so her mind singularly focuses on Abe and only provides her the range of good-natured academic interest in Abe to full romantic pursuit.  Reconciling the fact that this character comes from the same writer who gifted us “Annie Hall” and “Blue Jasmine” proves a tough task.

Irrational Man Emma Joaquin

Meanwhile, the plot of “Irrational Man” treads in well-charted waters for Allen.  Portions of the film could easily be grafts from the screenplays of “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” “Manhattan Murder Mystery,” or “Match Point.”  In between grandstanding about the meaninglessness of life and the void of existence, Abe contemplates the idea of a perfect murder that will make the world a better place if executed correctly.  The results are hardly shocking, yet they do manage to at least deliver an engaging thought experiment for the audience.

Nearing the ripe age of 80, it would be foolhardy to expect Woody Allen to change his ways.  (And as one of the few working filmmakers with complete creative control over his films, he has no incentive to alter anything about his process.)  But surely a bright a mind as his has accumulated enough concepts in his shoebox of ideas that he can afford to bypass those with such archaic notions of gender.  If “Midnight in Paris” showed anything, it was that Allen still has plenty to offer the present if he chooses to root himself in it.  C+ / 2stars

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3 responses

29 07 2015
ChadEHarris

“In the universe according to Woody Allen, such a brilliant intellect should naturally draw the interest of women – young, attractive, nubile ones in particular.”

This is the formula that I can’t bear from him anymore. This is coming to a/perture soon–I am not sure I’ll see it. That’s why I am reading this now– I don’t usually read reviews before I see a movie. However, I did look at your review of Magic in the Moonlight because I also skipped that one because of the “formula” (well also because of the medium stuff). But now I think I may just go back and watch that one and skip Irrational Man.

“If ‘Midnight in Paris’ showed anything, it was that Allen still has plenty to offer the present if he chooses to root himself in it.”

Yes. Yes. And yes.

Speaking of roles for women this year, it looks like we disagree on Clouds of Sils Maria. Ha.

29 07 2015
Marshall

I love “Annie Hall,” “Manhattan,” “Hannah and Her Sisters” et al. so much that I give every Woody Allen movie the benefit of the doubt going in. And at this point, seeing them all (which I have) feels like a streak I have to keep up instead of something I genuinely enjoy.

I think “Magic in the Moonlight,” while also flawed and unoriginal in its own right, at least gave Emma Stone something to do. Sure, she eventually falls for the older man, but the character has some function beyond just polishing the aura of the male lead.

And “Clouds of Sils Maria” did little for me, probably because I felt like “Maps to the Stars” (and “Birdman,” to some extent) had already done so much in the realm of “frustrated artist loses self in art” subgenre. Maybe if I’d seen it first, I would have felt differently.

29 07 2015
ChadEHarris

I can’t get enough of the “frustrated artist” subgenre and see those films as distinctly their own. To me, any comparison is not an annoying one. I had never even thought of Sils Maria in comparison to Maps–there are so many other issues at play in Maps that I guess they fully distracted me. As for Birdman, I am one of those people in the best picture group. I jumped out of my chair in excitement when it won, even though it was pretty clear by that point that it was going to win and Boyhood was not.

I totally understand your obligation to Allen.

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