Last year’s Magic in the Moonlight didn’t really spark any magic between Emma Stone and the ever charming Colin Firth. A lot of that had to do with Woody Allen’s less than stellar writing. Unmemorable, it sits among several of his misses as of late. Irrational Man sees Stone working with Allen again, but the film is just as bad, if not worse than its predecessor. Lacking Allen’s usual wit, his newest film is unfortunately bland and not compelling in the least.
In a college town somewhere in New England, everyone and their mother is raving about the newest addition to the university: Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix). A renowned philosophy professor, he is also a published author, a tormented soul, and is “conservative in a kind of liberal way.” The epitome of a tragic hero, it isn’t long before he has reluctantly caught the attention of two women: fellow professor Rita (Parker Posey) and Abe’s philosophy student Jill (Emma Stone).
But Abe is too far gone. Too jaded by life and everything around him, proclaiming to his students that drama is fabricated by people in order to “fill the void in their lives.” Neither woman is truly convinced and as Jill grows closer to Abe, he is suddenly revitalized after overhearing a conversation about a crooked judge’s actions. It is then when Abe decides to take matters into his own hands.
Watching a Woody Allen film, this one in particular, is like reading through a scholarly article. It’s tiring, feels longer than it is, and Allen’s pretentious dialogue doesn’t help. His characters are cardboard cutouts of characters posing as human beings. If the way to tell us about a character is by carrying on an agonizingly long conversation about how radical his philosophic ideas are and constantly blithering about how smart yet tragic he is, then the script should be reevaluated.
Set in a beautiful seaside (river?) town, the film’s look is scenic and beautiful, which is so unlike the overall tone. It’s a big contrast to Abe’s disposition and Allen’s often bleak outlook on the world. The film takes a sharp turn halfway through. What looked to be a pure and simple romantic triangle turns into an crisis of murderous proportions. This new plot direction comes out of nowhere, plopped in there perhaps to keep the story interesting, but this is what ultimately kills it. Allen tries to sharply veer left to maintain a sense of surprise and give the film a little more spice, but all it proves to do is question the sanity of Abe and not in an intriguing existential way as it was probably intended.
There is no use in complaining further, as Allen will most likely be whipping out another film much like this one this same time next year. However, Irrational Man is not worth your time or patience. All of the character relationships are forced, Abe is the clichéd lost and tragic hero who isn’t even remotely likable, and the entire thing is a setup for disaster. Long even at a run time of an hour and a half, Allen’s dialogue is riddled with unbridled arrogance and the film is hard to sit through from start to finish.