Thursday 4 March 2021

Movie Review: Irrational Man (2015)

A drama, comedy, romance, and crime mystery, Irrational Man is a bright Woody Allen outing with a judicious mix of ingredients.

Preceded by a reputation for rampant womanizing and heavy drinking, philosophy professor Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix) starts a new job at picturesque Braylin College in New England. He immediately attracts the attention of two women: married chemistry professor Rita Richards (Parker Posey), and his student Jill Pollard (Emma Stone), who has a serious boyfriend Roy (Jamie Blackley).

Both women find Abe depressed and lacking a purpose in life, and Rita soon discovers he is also suffering from erectile dysfunction. Jill persists with a friendship that evolves towards love, although Abe resists her sexual overtures. But when they overhear a stranger's story about corrupt family court Judge Thomas Spangler, Abe decides killing the judge will provide him the spark he needs in life.

Written and directed by Allen and clocking in at just 95 minutes, Irrational Man is a breezy mix of existential angst, blossoming love, and crime most foul. Focusing on just the three characters but surrounding them with an idyllic milieu at a relaxed college campus where anything seems to go, Allen is free to explore themes of depression, motivation, infatuation and ultimately how far friendship and loyalty can be tested, all with sly humour.

When Abe is in his initial gloomy state, the philosophical babble about life's futility is kept short and on the accessible side, although Allen can't resist having even Jill profoundly familiar with dense references to philosophers, poets and artists. The narrative delightfully curves to a reawakening of Abe's soul and spirit, thanks to a Hitchcockian murder plot carrying winks towards both Strangers On A Train and Dial M For Murder. Instead of escaping dysfunctional relationships, here murder is a tool to break away from psychological hopelessness, and Abe's transformation triggers cascading consequences for Rita and Jill.

Joaquin Phoenix loosens a floppy belly and transitions between Abe's two modes with light switch efficiency. Emma Stone gets the more complicated role and is radiant as the smart student, already in a relationship but gradually drawn into a lustful emotional rescue mission.

The ending is a bit abrupt and perhaps a stretch even for Abe's warped sense of passion, but with a Randy Lewis soundtrack providing a bouncy jazz soundtrack, Irrational Man provides smooth unpredictability.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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