Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, Parker Posey
Director: Woody Allen
Running Time: 95 mins
Irrational Man is an American film about a frustrated and troubled university professor who strikes up a friendship with one of his students. However, when he hears of trouble in someone else’s life, his own world takes a dramatic turn.
The films of Woody Allen over recent years have become really hit and miss, with the director aiming to replicate the unique and fresh nature of his classic works in the 70s and 80s time and time again. In the case of Irrational Man, Allen succeeds with an engaging and easy-going story, bolstered by strong and likable turns from Emma Stone and Joaquin Phoenix, however the film struggles as it devolves into somewhat of a caricature of Woody Allen’s films, failing to really stand out as any genuinely original or striking.
Let’s start on the bright side, though, with the fact that Irrational Man is, for the most part, an engaging and entertaining watch. Combining quirky romantic comedy with a little bit of crime and all of the philosophical introspection that many of Woody Allen’s classics are known for, it’s got all the ingredients to be a good movie, and it pulls that off fairly well throughout.
With a light-hearted atmosphere and a fluttery musical score, it’s a film that allows you to sit back and relax, and as you follow the enjoyably ambiguous yet still engaging central relationship between Stone and Phoenix, Irrational Man delights with the odd good bit of humour, and a surprising degree of unpredictablility and genuinely intriguing drama in its middle act.
It’s not perfect all the way through, and the first act struggles with some rather wonky dialogue, while the third act is a little much. However, at its peak, when we see Joaquin Phoenix’s character discover a whole new meaning to his ever more frustrated existence, the film develops a striking energy that proves thoroughly entertaining, even if it doesn’t quite last as long as would have been ideal.
Also, we can’t forget the lead performances, which play a big role in making this an enjoyale watch throughout. Emma Stone is lovely in a rather light role, Joaquin Phoenix is a lot more grounded and palatable than some of his most outlandish roles, and the two work great together throughout, while supporting actress Parker Posey impresses with a memorable turn in a small role.
However, while I enjoyed Irrational Man as a generally fluffy and pleasant comedy with a little bit of good drama, I can’t really escape the feeling that the film is all just a bit of a caricature of Woody Allen’s classic style. Lacking the nervous, quirky energy that makes classics like Annie Hall and Manhattan work so well, there’s a clash between the modern, polished production and Allen’s attempts to recreate the style of film he is best known for.
What’s more is that that style itself never really sits perfectly with the story being told here. While the first act is a passably fluffy opening, the drama and darker ideas that come into play later on really clash with the light-hearted atmosphere, with the characters taking part in an ever more serious crime story that continues to be set to a fluttery musical score.
If Allen had pushed the boat out a bit more, and brought a degree of crazed insanity into the story and the main characters, then that clash could have played out as a clever bit of irony, but as a film that seems like a much more light-hearted remake of Allen’s classic style, it feels like a real misjudgment, and proves a frustrating point throughout.
Overall, I did like Irrational Man, mostly as an enjoyable and light-hearted watch that features three thoroughly likable performances, decent humour and a bit of good drama too. It never really ties itself together in brilliant fashion, and Allen’s attempts to recreate his classic filmmaking style create frustrating clashes with the story at hand, but the film proves a generally entertaining watch regardless, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.5.