Irrational Man

Posted by Joel Copling on August 2, 2015

"Irrational Man" is sort of a misleading title, because the protagonist is less irrational than cursed with some deep psychological issues. I guess one could also extend the umbrella of issues to cover the philosophical, too, as director Woody Allen's screenplay at first seems taken with the conversations had between this professor and his new class of students at Braylin College. Actually, "seems" is an appropriate verb for that sentence, because Allen is only interested in the superficial bullet points of the works of Kant and Kierkegaard and many others. "Philosophy is verbal masturbation," this man says, and that indicates to anyone truly analyzing it that Allen, whether intentionally or not, misses the point of the practice and the fact that the ideas that come from are still worth discussing.

Perhaps it is Abe Lucas' general sense of cold detachment to everything and most people around him, played well enough by Joaquin Phoenix, that explains why he doesn't seem to get any sort of rise out of discussing these thinkers and their ideas. After all, his best friend cheated with his wife before dying in a freak land-mine incident overseas, no doubt leaving behind a bevy of unfinished business and unresolved turmoil. Abe clearly entered a spiral, gaining a blockage in inspiration while writing a book on Heidegger and a beer gut that suggests lack of personal maintenance. He can't perform in bed, either, even when a new colleague named Rita (Parker Posey) latches onto him.

He meets Jill (Emma Stone), a student in his class, after being impressed by her dedication both to engaging Abe's ideas in his writing and challenging them with originality and depth. Jill, much to boyfriend Roy's (Jamie Blackley) notice and chagrin, finds immediate attraction with Abe and the two spark up (reluctantly, on Abe's side) an affair. Abe's sense of coldness is still sort of there, however--until the inciting incident of what constitutes a plot kicks in: The two overhear a conversation involving a judge (Tom Kemp) with a prejudicial streak, and Abe decides to take drastic action on the sufferer's behalf. Which, yes, is exactly what you think it means.

The rest of this piffle ignores outright anything about the philosophical angle that might be of interest to the audience, although it must be said that Allen's screenplay never delves into it in the first place, content to remain on the outside looking in from a cynical place of thought. Instead, the focus is upon the inciting incident, which is accomplished via montage of Abe stalking the judge and watching his routine, and its consequences, which are as uninvolving as they are predictable. The technical credits are typically fine for an Allen joint (This continues his fruitful relationship with cinematographer Darius Khondji, for instance), but "Irrational Man" is, not one, but two, obvious and meandering movies smashed together into one.

Film Information

Joaquin Phoenix (Abe), Emma Stone (Jill), Parker Posey (Rita), Jamie Blackley (Roy), Betsy Aidem (Jill's Mother), Ethan Phillips (Jill's Father), Tom Kemp (Judge Spangler).

Directed and written by Woody Allen.

Rated R (language, sexual content).

96 minutes.

Released in select cities on July 17, 2015.