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people finally expect female characters to resemble fully-fleshed people, his writing feels hopelessly retrograde and outdated.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.

Read the rest of this entry »