Morbidly Kooky: A Review of ‘Irrational Man’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - July 24, 2015
Morbidly Kooky: A Review of ‘Irrational Man’

The lazy summer months do have the tendency to bring out the counter-programming types of movies as the big budget blockbuster popcorn movies tend to get a little thin.  At his approximately one movie a year clip, Woody Allen is still trucking along and with his latest Irrational Man  we get a morbidly dark comedy that still gets the laughs as his latest muse continues to shine on through.

It’s an idyllic setting, a small town college campus where new philosophy professor Abe (Joaquin Phoenix) rolls into town for a new semester with a fair bit of baggage on his back as he comes in to school not only with a reputation for bedding his students but as a damaged and tortured soul on the brink of ending it all.  Enter Jill (Emma Stone) his bright young student looking for a little more then what her quiet hamlet of a town had to offer.  During their relationship, in a purely random fashion when they over hear a conversation at a diner, Abe is presented with an opportunity to perform a truly existential act which gives his life meaning once again, however it isn’t exactly what Jill had in mind.


In an affair that could only be described as morbidly witty, Woody Allen’s Irrational Man serves as an epic reminder that Woody is almost at his best when he lets his actors tear into the material and keeps the rhythms of the overall narrative as subtle as he possibly can.

Right when people start to write off Woody, he comes up with something like this.  It isn’t the deepest piece of entertainment that any of us have ever come across but it has a sharp edge to it that keeps us going as we follow the action.  It moves at a brisk pace and while it could feel like an exercise in filmmaking to prove to himself that he still has the chops to tell something engaging like this was, it manages to rise above on its when Abe essentially warns his class that philosophy is tantamount to verbal masturbation and in reality this movie isn’t much different, but I’ll give it points for giving us as an audience a sly wink to acknowledge that it all the high brow back and forth he really isn’t taking any of this all that seriously.  It’s almost a cynical humanist sort of piece that is brought to life by some very solid lead performances.

Emma Stone continues her run as Woody’s latest muse in this one and she works it for all it is worth as her innate comedic timing seems made for movies with Woody.  You don’t need to give her a hell of a lot of direction and you just need to wind her up and watch her go as she plays the not quite as wise as she thinks she is college student looking for a little more life experience.  Joaquin brings his A-Game as always, bringing Abe a genuine quality that was both despondent and shockingly vibrant all at the same time.  Out of the entire cast though the genuinely pleasant shocker has to be Parker Posey as the middle aged Rita colleague of Abe who desperately wants to have an affair with him in only to shake up her existence.  She plays it with manic energy and a world weary sass because she has seen it all, been there and even bought the t-shirt.  I’d love to see Allen center a movie around a talent like Posey because together they could genuinely make some comedic gold that is dripping with enough neurosis to make Sigmund Freud proud.

While it would be hardly categorized as epic, or must see Woody Allen, Irrational Man is a hell of a lot of morbid fun if you don’t mind getting a little dark along with your dysfunctional neurotic characters that Allen has both run into the ground and made begrudgingly charming all at the same time.


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David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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