And here we go again with another edition of The Anticipated. This week I delve into Woody Allen’s Irrational Man. Allen has been on a bit of a hot streak of late, coming out with a good movie every odd-numbered year. So did Irrational Man continue this trend, or does it prove that Woody’s hot streak is nothing more than random noise? Let’s dive on in, and find out.
Spoilers Ahead (Probably)
Irrational Man (July 24th, 2015)
How was it?
On the one hand, this film is really funny at times, and does some clever deconstruction of some of Woody Allen’s past works. On the other hand, the movie itself is an absolute mess that wanders aimlessly. So while enjoyable, it is not a particularly good movie. This should have been rather difficult, considering both Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone should be perfect fits in a Woody Allen movie. As a Woody Allen proxy, Phoenix shares many of the same qualities as Allen, but with a far more diverse skill set as an actor, which should have allowed him to take his role as Abe in a really great direction. At times this proves to be true, as Phoenix is perfect at showing Abe’s slowly disintegrating mental state in a completely rational way, but the performance just feels off, and as the movie slowly begins collapsing under the weight of its plot Phoenix is unable to help keep things afloat. Stone, meanwhile, is simply wasted in her boring role, which is becoming a common refrain in a lot of her movies lately (at least in Aloha she was allowed to go for it the whole movie, even if she was completely miscast).
Allen feels like the right director to really tap into Stone’s talents, like David O Russell has been able to with Jennifer Lawrence, but so far in both Magic in the Moonlight and now Irrational Man things just haven’t worked out. Maybe that is because Stone keeps being cast as the love interest of the main lead as opposed to the lead herself. Allen does seem to know how to use Stone’s innate likeability to help make unlikable characters work quite well, and at some level one has to wonder if this film might have worked significantly better had it been reshuffled to make Stone the true protagonist. Instead, Stone is mainly stuck as a lovestruck college student who falls for her college professor because he is smart and witty. Then again, her boyfriend Roy (Jaimie Blackley) is the most boring tool in existence, so I guess anyone is an improvement. But as much as I would like to turn this into a bitching session about how much Hollywood fails to know how to use Emma Stone in movies I should get back on point with Irrational Man.
Not all the acting disappoints, as Parker Posey is great as fellow college professor Rita, who is the only character in the whole movie you actually care about. Plus, when the film wants to be, it is really insightful and funny, as Woody Allen films are prone to be. The film is just too aimless for the jokes to land as consistently or successfully as they should have. All of this creates an uneven experience that makes the movie hard to enjoy as a cohesive whole. At the same time, there is a certain amount of respect I gained from this movie considering it seems like a deconstruction of Matchpoint and heavily influenced by Crimes and Misdemeanors. Allen’s fascination with getting away with murder is on display once again, except unlike in Matchpoint, which ends up being a murder fantasy (where not only does the murderer get away with murder, but his life also benefits greatly from the crime), Irrational Man explores what would happen if someone more like Allen tried performing the perfect murder, with disastrous personal results. All of this creates a fascinating movie that is still middling in quality.
Isn’t this based on…?
Nothing, other than the fact that all Woody Allen films have a similar spine, and a lot of what this film deals with is also dealt with in both Crimes and Misdemeanors and Matchpoint. Considering how much Woody Allen writes, certain ideas are bound to be recycled in new ways, so none of this is really that surprising. At least Allen is constantly trying to do new things.
Did it warrant its selection on The Anticipated?
Nope. Similarly to Paper Towns, this film suffers from high expectations. Most of Woody Allen’s prolific career has been filled with a combination of hits and misses with no real consistency. Allen gets an idea, and writes about it. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t, but instead of caring, either way Allen just moves onto his next project. This is why Woody Allen couldn’t be bothered to receive his Oscar for Midnight in Paris, because he was too busy working on his next movie. Still, part of the reason his scripts can be so hit or miss at times is that he is usually simply doing too much. No matter how talented one is, writing, directing, and starring in the same movie rarely works out well. Sure, sometimes you make Annie Hall and everything works out perfectly, but otherwise it is just too easy for a film to get off track and never really recover. Eventually, however, Allen realized that he was simply too old to play leading roles in his movies–and also probably began to realize that the grind of doing everything himself was just too much. Casting other actors in “his” roles has allowed him to achieve a bit more consistency in his movies, and led to him shining more frequently.
Sure, he still can’t seem to make two good movies in a row, but Midnight in Paris was the best film of 2011 (this is somewhat faint praise, considering how bad of a year for movies 2011 was, but I at least stand by Midnight in Paris even in a good year), and Blue Jasmine offered a unique role for Cate Blanchett that allowed her to shine magnificently (the type of role I keep hoping Allen will write for Emma Stone). So a lot of my hope for Irrational Man was based on the theory that the film would continue the odd year streak Allen had been on in this current decade, and that Phoenix and Stone would prove to be great leads. Instead, this movie is just as empty as the philosophical musings Abe complains about. Ultimately, if this film could have at least been a good movie, that emptiness wouldn’t have been as much as issue, but being barely above mediocre makes it a profound disappointment and a waste.
Would I recommend it to others?
Not really, outside of maybe as a movie to watch on an airplane for some good laughs, or to a film nerd who wants to see the evolution of how Allen deals with the philosophical idea of murder.
How does this film measure up in a post Mad Max: Fury Road world?
Umm, not well. Though even the great version of this movie would have existed in a completely different sphere from Mad Max.
How would I rate it?
On our handy dandy made-up anticipation meter, Irrational Man would rate 3 philosophical diatribes out of 10, because, while not a bad movie, it is not a good one either, and considering the cast and the idea being something Allen has had success with, the film being so mediocre is not acceptable.
For an actual rating: I did find the movie funny, and clever when it wants to be, and Parker Posey is a treat, but the film lets down its two leads, and the thread tying it together is just not that good. Still, it is not actually a bad movie so it would be 2.25 stars out of 4 stars, as it is does just enough to be slightly better than an average movie. Still a definite misfire for Allen, who is already working on his next movie, and is probably surprised anyone is still talking about his previous film.
That’s it for this edition of The Anticipated. There is going to be a bit of a break, as the next films on the list won’t be coming until October when I will probably be back with a look at Gem and the Holograms, which was a film that didn’t make the main list, but was marked as one of the most intriguing films of the year due to it being likely that the film is either going to be a smashing success or a spectacular failure. The more trailers are released, the more the latter seems most likely, but we’ll see when we return in October with the next edition of The Anticipated.
Will David Be Watching Crimson Peak?
It seems almost inevitable that I will see it. I have begun to accept my fate.