Film Reviews

AS PITHY AS IT GETS – <i>Irrational Man</i> (2015)

AS PITHY AS IT GETS – Irrational Man (2015)

Alice Chou

August 13th, 2015


Unlike Woody Allen’s early years, when he consistently made masterpieces like Annie Hall (1977), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), and Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), lately he is like an automated machine, cranking out one movie after another without regard to quality or consistency. In the last ten years, Allen has given us highly acclaimed films like Midnight in Paris (2011) and Blue Jasmine (2013), and then there are duds like Scoop (2006) and To Rome With Love (2012). Going to see his film nowadays, you never know what you are going to get. Unfortunately, Irrational Man should have been called Psychopathic Man.

Written and directed by Allen, Irrational Man, his 46th film, contains all of the trademark themes from his previous films: clueless man in existential crisis, futile beings in a meaningless world, obsession with murder, young woman in love with an older man, and pretentious high-brow mannerisms and comedy. The film stars Joaquin Phoenix as Abe Lucas, a depressed drunk philosophy professor, newly arrived at a fictional college in Newport, Rhode Island. Everyone on campus anticipates his arrival with great excitement and once he is there, he is treated like a rock star. He wows the faculty and the students by mentioning Kierkegaard, Kant, and Dostoyevsky in conversations without really saying anything substantial.

Soon, a lonely, sex-starved, married colleague Rita (Parker Posey) initiates a sexual relationship with Abe and a chipper, awestruck student ditches her straight-laced boyfriend Roy (Jamie Blackley) for him. Abe, on the other hand, despite having volunteered at Darfur and other war-torn areas, has lost his will to live and breathe. When he overhears a conversation about a woman who lost custody of her children, he decides to kill the judge responsible and, in the process, gets his mojo back. The part about the custody fight may be too close for comfort for those who are familiar with Allen’s personal drama, as it does seem autobiographical.

To say realism is not a term usually used to describe Allen’s film is an understatement. Sometimes, suspension of disbelief and a leap of faith are needed for the enjoyment of an Allen film. Even those maneuvers cannot help here. Abe is an apathetic, whiny, shallow, and amoral character. He has no remorse when it comes to plotting or committing the murder of a total stranger. While he plays Russian Roulette in front of his students to demonstrate a point, I wish he had caught the bullet. When he finds a reason to live, I want to kick him in the head. Furthermore, the scheme is planned by a person in power, not by some lowlife or out of panic or danger, and idolized by his fellow academics. He justifies this action as a universal good. I don’t think this is merely an irrational thought but rather a psychopathic trait. He does not just have a momentary lapse of judgement or reason. These perverted thoughts and amoral behavior are part of his personality. How a group of supposed high-cultured intellectuals find him a radical genius is beyond comprehension.

The portrayal of women is not much better. Rita is an attractive, witty professor. She is unhappy with her life and her marriage so she is rumored to have slept with most of the staff and looking for a man to take her away. I doubt Newport is a hillbilly town from which its residents want to escape, and with her smarts and abilities, she could certainly leave on her own without needing a loser like Abe. Jill is a student attending a privileged private college. She goes horseback riding and plays the piano. She is pretty, good-natured, and intelligent, but she is dumb enough to quickly fall for a “brilliant” old lost soul who is in despair and needs saving. Sure, some bad boys can be attractive because they are good-looking, misunderstood, and have untapped talents and goodness. Abe has none of these qualities.

There are two positive things in this movie though: the Ramsey Lewis Trio’s “The In Crowd” provides good background music, its pleasant beats contrasting with the bleak tone of the story, and cinematographer Darius Khondi’s shots of Rhode Island, with its rich warm colors, are beautiful to look at. Unfortunately, despite their efforts, Phoenix and Stone are neither natural nor convincing. Parker gives an authentic performance, but her screen time is limited. Some may find the ending satisfying, but it comes a little too late, even with a total running time of only 94 minutes. If this is meant to be a comedy, I must have missed the jokes.

Irrational Man continues its run at the Bijou Art Cinemas. Click here for showtimes.

Alice Chou is a physician by trade, but a lifelong cinephile and a novice movie reviewer. As Pithy as it Gets is an irregular column in which she provides critical analysis of films screening locally.

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