Woody Allen’s (Midnight in Paris) latest film, Irrational Man, is an offbeat, intellectual exercise on morality and existentialism. Starring Joaquin Phoenix (Inherent Vice) and Allen’s latest muse, Emma Stone (The Help), the two become caught in a torrid romance that centers on a plot to plan the perfect murder.
Phoenix plays Abe Lucas, a university philosophy professor with a penchant for single malt scotch with a reputation as a ladies’ man. Soon after arriving to his new college, he begins an affair with his unhappily married colleague, Rita (Parker Posey), and starts a flirtatious relationship with his student, Jill (Stone). With little to look forward to in life, his cynicism and depression abruptly comes to a halt when he finds a new purpose by committing an existential act: the murder of a judge.
Both Phoenix and Stone turn in strong performances under Allen’s direction. Phoenix fits snuggly into his pessimistic, drunken stupor, which places him well within his comfort zone. Stone meanwhile perfectly captures the wide-eyed gaze of youth as she dotes on the older professor and falls for his enigmatic charm. Posey (Grace of Monaco) does well too as the neurotic science lecturer, who fantasizes about escaping her humdrum marriage for a fresh start in Spain.
Like always, it’s hard not to see the reflections of Allen’s own life played out in his films, with time spent focusing on muses, relationships with younger women and corrupt judges in custody battles. Jill is suggested as a muse for Lucas, who spends most of the film attempting to rationalize how inappropriate their relationship is while simultaneously falling for her charms. Irrational Man sets a clear parallel to Woody’s own life, with stepdaughter-turned-wife Soon-Yi, and plays out as a possible attempt to validate and also provide catharsis on what was a rather controversial relationship.
While a solid film in Allen’s filmography, it falls short of his other films with murderous protagonists like Crimes and Misdemeanors and Match Point. The film lingers somewhere between comedy and drama, but lacks the laughs of the former and the suspense of the latter. The last act also seems to lack energy, as the plot plays out as required, with only some sparks of wit and not nearly the same level of motivation or charm as the film’s beginning.
THE REEL SCORE: 7/10