A despondent philosophy professor is invigorated by the idea of committing the perfect crime in Woody Allen’s latest light, romantic drama, Irrational Man.
It takes place in Allen’s familiar world of intellectuals and romantics. Professor Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix) possesses an exhilarating reputation of radicalism, womanising and military catastrophe.
By the time we actually meet him at Braylin College, he’s a downcast drunk who flippantly plays Russian roulette at a student party. Suffocated by the meaninglessness of life, Abe’s acute sense of despair blocks him from writing and sex. Only when he has chance to commit an apparently selfless crime, does his vigour for life return.
This romanticised vision of tortured genius gives Irrational Man a cerebral, head-in-the-clouds ambience that’s distinctly Woody Allen.
Even in spite of his flaws, Abe is pursued by a desperate married colleague (Parker Posey) and an energetic, precocious student (Emma Stone).
Their cerebral chitchat is cluttered with ideas but the unsteady screenplay doesn’t quite connect the dots. Despite much artistry in his blend of light and dark, Allen’s gentle, casual tone diverts attention away from his film’s substance.
For Allen, the search for a single “meaningful act” is perhaps the most ‘irrational’ of all: Abe’s absurd existential crime represents our own quests for meaning which form a necessary, but illogical, distraction from life beyond our control.
Irrational Man isn’t on par with Woody Allen’s most recent masterpieces (Blue Jasmine, Midnight in Paris) but with a sublime cast and amusing philosophical flavour, there remains much to enjoy.