Cannes Review: Woody Allen's 'Irrational Man' Isn't His Best Effort
by Marco Cerritos
May 20, 2015
Reporting from the Cannes Film Festival. Two recurring themes in Woody Allen's filmography are murder and dangerous love affairs. His latest is Irrational Man and it continues this trend with mixed results. But mostly it will leave you with thoughts of revisiting Allen's better efforts like Crimes and Misdemeanors, Match Point and Cassandra's Dream. His latest film (which just premiered at Cannes) takes place in a concentrated college town where everyone seems to know each other and privacy is nonexistent. Insecure philosophy professor Abe Lucas (played by Joaquin Phoenix) has just been hired at the fictional Braylin College and it's treated like an atom bomb of gossip by the faculty and student body.
Everyone has a theory about the professor before he's even reached the campus, with rumors flying of alcoholism, erratic behavior and sexual affairs with female students. It doesn't matter if the rumors are true, it's still enough to get minds racing at Braylin. When Abe finally arrives on campus, the attention starved locals greet him with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Two standouts include fellow professor Rita (played by Parker Posey) who throws herself at him immediately and also curious student Jill (played by Emma Stone) who takes her time sizing him up before deciding what to do next.
Inappropriate relationships blossom with both women with different degrees of satisfaction, leaving the very confused and stunted Abe with little to do but cower in fear and vow not to take things too far. But of course the envelope must be pushed in movies like this, just not in the way you might expect.
Temptation for Abe comes in the form of an eavesdropped conversation where the wheels in his head start plotting a possible murder. This unexpected revelation turns out to be just what he needs to unblock himself sexually and creatively and the consequences of these actions are what drive the film's unbalanced third act. This turning point is what will divide audiences on Irrational Man, a movie that up until now has been steady and innocuous but now has the potential to either be insightful or ludicrous.
The idea of Woody Allen making another movie about a struggling artist balancing a sexual affair with much younger women will certainly set off red flags but he's made this kind of movie before. If you could look past his personal politics before and still enjoy his work you should have no problem doing that now. Irrational Man moves at a brisk pace and that's helped by Allen's witty dialogue and jazzy score. One device that works better than expected is his constant need to use narration to move the plot along. In this case Allen uses two dueling narrators (Abe and Jill) to tell the story from a separate point of view and they sometimes contradict each other in the process.
Joaquin Phoenix puts in solid work as the troubled professor but Emma Stone steals the show as the movie's secret weapon. She's fast, witty and delivers Woody Allen's signature dialogue like a pro. She also seems to be Allen's current movie muse and after their last pairing together (the failed Magic in the Moonlight from 2014), it makes sense why she's actually given something to do this time around.
Marco's Cannes 2015 Rating: B-
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