Thursday, July 16, 2015

“Irrational Man”– Movie Review



This week, I attended a New York Times Film Club screening of Woody Allen’s new comedy-drama, “Irrational Man”.


When a college professor finds something he believes may cure his depression, will it actually enhance his life or will it be ruined beyond repair?


With the Spring Semester recently concluded for a University in a small Rhode Island town, Abe (Joaquin Phoenix) has accepted a job there to teach philosophy during the Summer Semester; since Abe has some degree of notoriety for having published rather controversial work in academic periodicals, both faculty and students alike have greatly anticipated his arrival.  But that isn’t the only reason for the chattering – gossip abounds regarding Abe’s reputation as something of a womanizer as well as rumors concerning his possible alcoholism.

Unfortunately, Abe is not quite as enthusiastic about his upcoming assignment as everyone else seems to be.  Professionally, he’s a burn-out case and personally, he’s a bit rudderless.  Having lost his way and left to question his life, Abe finds himself without purpose and not particularly enjoying his existence, whether in the classroom or out.  Despite this, Abe finds a pair of romantic opportunities unexpectedly crossing his path:  one is with Rita (Parker Posey), a fellow teacher at the same school.  The other is with Jill (Emma Stone), one of his students. 

While out with Jill, Abe overhears a woman talking about how a corrupt local judge has wrecked her life by awarding custody of her children to her irresponsible ex-husband.  Abe sees this as a chance for redemption:  if he can murder this judge, Abe believes his life will suddenly have the meaning that has been lacking thus far.  Devising an evil scheme which initially appears to succeed, Abe is confident he will get off scot-free.  However, things start to fall apart when Jill figures out Abe killed the judge.  But when Jill threatens to go to the authorities after Abe confesses to her, will he be able to prevent her from turning him in to the police?    


“Irrational Man” will neither be viewed as one of Woody Allen’s worst films, nor will it be considered one of his best; instead, it is somewhere in the middle.  As the filmmaker turns 80 at the end of this year, we may not know if he’s completely run out of ideas until his next motion picture – assuming there is one.  This is far from the first time that Allen has been self-derivative in his work – but as we have seen in the past, being self-derivative is not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to Woody Allen.  Sometimes, a mediocre Woody Allen movie can be better than most of the other choices in theaters; when it comes to “Irrational Man”, however, this may not be one of those times.

Occasionally, Woody Allen makes interesting musical choices in his movies and with “Irrational Man”, he uses Ramsey Lewis’ version of “The In Crowd” extensively – maybe too much, depending on your perspective.  Whether this is because he believes the song resonates a theme in his film or simply because he likes the tune is difficult to say.  The soundtrack is certainly varied as it ranges from this jazz standard (as well as others by Lewis) to classical music to the old standard, “Darn That Dream”.  Even if you don’t particularly care for the picture, it’s a pleasure to listen to its music.

Deserving special mention is cinematographer Darius Khondji, who has made this quaint Rhode Island location look so much like a commercial to vacation there that its Chamber of Commerce should thank him profusely; he’s shot the place beautifully, especially in scenes by the water.  Khondji has worked with Allen several times before on some of his previous films – Allen may feel he’s found the next Gordon Willis and he might just be right.  So, we’ve established that “Irrational Man” is nice to listen to and pleasant to look at, but is it entertaining to watch?  Maybe, but only if you’re interested in a rehash of themes the filmmaker already covered in “Crimes And Misdemeanors”. 

Irrational Man (2015) on IMDb

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