Like Tarantino, when you watch the opening credits of a Woody Allen film and see the same font you always do baring the letters that are, most likely, the same names over and over again. Irrational Man is no different. Then you hear the same whimsical music. Therefore, you would be forgiven for thinking you were watching another of his films. But when the credits end that’s when the unpredictability begins.
Yes, Allen has his classic trademarks that appear again and again in his films dressed in many different outfits. But in terms of quality and enjoyability, you never quite know what you’re getting with Allen. He rides the line between innovative and brilliant, with pretentious and boring.
Irrational Man (2015)
Which leads me quite nicely into Irrational Man. Emma Stone plays a pretty and well liked college student with a loving family and a dull, but caring boyfriend. The start of the semester begins and there’s a new Professor joining the Philosophy department. He is a drug-addled adulterer with a reputation preceding himself. Enter Joaquin Phoenix as our titular irrational man. Stone’s character is drawn to Phoenix’s academic brilliance and unattainability that most sweet young college girls seem to do often in movie-world. And in doing so, she lands herself in a compromising position between Phoenix and the law.
Joaquin Phoenix with Love
Before I continue, you have to know that Joaquin Phoenix is one of my favourite actors. A subject I have written about before on this blog. He chooses interesting roles that accentuate his talent. I admire his veganism and adore that he seems to skirt the borders of Hollywood like some outlawed cowboy. But I would understand if you would look at me oddly if you had only ever watched Phoenix in this role.
He plays a character where his wacky reputation precedes him, but does him no favours. He doesn’t just fail to live up to this reputation, he falls short and seems like a bit of a different person altogether. He’s not a crazed genius spending every night until the early hours writing brilliant book after brilliant book whilst nursing a bottle of whisky, he’s a lazy middle aged psychopath whom Allen wants us to believe has gotten the way he is through being too smart. He’s not irrational, he’s quite probably mentally disturbed.
C’mon Emma, you’re better than this
And you’d think a student as smart as the one Emma Stone plays would be able to see this. But no, for the sake of a bit more excitement she is taken in by Phoenix’s nutty Professor until things go a bit too far for her liking and she has to back down. I won’t spoil it for you (if you, lol, still wanted to watch it) but when Phoenix’s Professor becomes so bored he wants to kill himself, he comes up with a plan to make him feel alive again, to raise the stakes, something Stone just isn’t cool with. And it isn’t cool with Phoenix that she’s not cool with it.
The Northeastern college town is beautiful dripping in spring sunlight and the costumes are plain, pretty, clean cut, almost timeless. The usual Woody Allen garb that you can see in Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) and Midnight in Paris (2010), but it’s idyllic setting seems to make light of what Phoenix’s Professor does, and the implications of this never quite seem real when everything is committed in the light of day. You can’t get rid of that nagging feeling from this film that it could have been so much more if it weren’t so… Allenesque. He is, of course, his own worst enemy, and with his films you never know if you should run away or run into it’s arms and I doubt that will never change.
Have you seen Irrational Man? Do you think it has many redeeming qualities?