20 September 2015

Woody Allen’s ‘Irrational Man’

Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix) is a philosophy teacher with strains of Hunter S Thompson and Howard Kirk, Malcolm Bradbury's The History Man. The film starts as Abe is on his way to a lecturing job at Braylin College, an imaginary US campus where the only courses seem to be Chemistry and Philosophy 101, where the students live with their liberal intellectual parents in choicely furnished homes and the girls wear short summery dresses.

Abe is in a depressed state, even for the onset of early middle-age, such that his libido, a legend which had preceded his arrival, lets him down even when Rita Richards (Parker Posey), also on the faculty, gets herself into his bed at the earliest opportunity. Having to deliver lectures which make Philosophy for Dummies seem stretching can't do much for his angst but they make a big impression on the students, particularly Jill Pollard (Emma Stone). Abe and Jill become an item (openly and against college rules but no one seems to care), albeit platonic (not that he lectures about the Symposium, being more of a Sartre man). An Allenish cute encounter provides Abe with the chance to make the world a better place by an act of murder, a realisation which restores his masculine vitality.

How he commits this crime and how things subsequently go awry are revealed partly in retrospect by Jill and partly by narrative. The plot has some obvious shortcomings: not least you have to accept that Braylin is so laid back that anything can happen there and that Rita and Jill would be on such good terms when competing for the same man. If it had been told at a faster pace - not difficult - Irrational Man would have done nicely as one of the 30 minute pieces Allen is to make for Amazon.

As Allen's recent works go, Irrational Man is superior to Magic in the Moonlight, (and gave Emma Stone a better part) but not as good as Blue Jasmine. As with Magic in the Moonlight some of the shooting was in evening light, perhaps that is going to be a characteristic of late Allen. It was good to be reminded just how agreeable Rhode Island can be in the summer.

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