The premise of Woody Allen’s new film, Irrational Man, is random chance. Well he took a chance but the film just felt pretty random and notably absent is Woody’s wit.
Irrational Man is all about philosophy professor, Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix), emotionally and physically washed up, who moves to a upmarket college town to head the philosophy department. He’s the archetypal stranger that everyone has heard a story transformed by whispers and giggles in the college hallways of his conquests with students, his friends dying horrible deaths etc. There’s no end of irony in the story – the philosophy professor who’s searching for meaning in his life: will it come from youth in the form of Jill (Emma Stone) or a married but frustrated professor Rita (Parker Posey). However meaning arrives in the most unexpected way when by chance in a cafe when he overhears a group of strangers talking. He leaves the cafe reinvigorated with a desire to live life to the full after making an irrational yet profound decision. Will this overheard conversation in a diner provide him with the chance to live the life he always dreamt of?
The irony of the socially awkward, peculiar man, surrounded by beautiful and accomplished women sounds like a classic Woody Allen film. It would appear that the Grand European Tour is over and Woody is home and back to what he knows: upmarket Americans with first world problems discussing existentialism, Sartre and what it means to be truly honest. All of that is great. For the first half of the film: there are laughs and as is to be expected Joaquin Phoenix is on fine form bringing to the forefront the demons that haunt his character mixed whilst uttering deliciously wicked lines: “philosophy is verbal masturbation”. Parker Posey is luminous on screen and so effortless plays her character of the professor bored with life and in search of excitement. Emma Stone however overacts and clearly out of her depth perpetually wide eyed and vocal fry. However, the hypothetical dinner party discussion game that dominates the second half of the film runs out of steam and when the second twist comes 10 mins before the end I just thought get it over already.
Dare I say it but the film could have done with the famous Woody Allen narration, it needed to be more neurotic and ease up on the philosophy. The message of random luck, fate, chance are really driven home but in the end the film just felt a little random. It was better than in my opinion the awful Match Point but then nearly everything Woody Allen ever wrote or directed before and after was better than that film.
Irrational Man is ‘new’ Woody Allen think Vicky Christina Barcelona with a glimmer of vintage but not enough to make it memorable. Having said that it makes easy viewing and would work well for a night with friends, even dare I say it Woody Allen hating friends, or a date night.
Irrational Man is released on 11 September across the UK, rated 12A.
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