Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone confront some startling existential questions in Woody Allen’s latest film, “Irrational Man.” Mr. Allen has, without fail, created a new film each year since his 1965 comedy “What’s New Pussycat?” Among his best are such films as 1986’s “Hannah and Her Sisters” and 2011’s “Midnight in Paris,” both Oscar winners. Will “Irrational Man” garner any award nominations? The funny thing is, the film is very sound and, depending on the roll of the dice, it could come in for some Academy Award recognition. Let’s take a closer look.
Emma Stone has proven to be an exceptional leading lady for Allen with her mesmerizing role as a clairvoyant pursuing Colin Firth in 2014’s “Magic in the Moonlight.” Wow, and that was only last year. Given such a solid performance in that, Stone takes it further with her latest Allen film. As Jill, she must decide between her college boyfriend, Roy (played by Jamie Blackley) or the mysterious visiting professor, Abe Lucas (played by Joaquin Phoenix). However, Abe is nuts. It takes an “existential act” for this tormented philosophy professor to find a will to live. Just a little too heavy-duty for our ingenue. She may find herself with no clear way out once she’s under Abe’s spell.
Joaquin Phoenix is perfect as the charismatic, and dangerous, prof. He fills in for Allen’s self-absorbed intellectual on a highly dubious spiritual quest. Here is where you can spin it as Allen back to true form or Allen back to his old tricks. The compromise view, and more to the point, is that here we have another variation on a theme, another gem from the master storyteller. You’ll love seeing all the characters put through the wringer. It’s a fun farce. You can kick Allen around or praise him, but he is hardly someone to take for granted.
As with any Allen film, it gives back bit by bit as little seeds take root and blossom. The surprise treasure in this case is Parker Posey as Rita, the more substantial love interest for Abe. She plays a sexy and easy-going faculty member who proves to be a good match for the mercurial Abe. If all he seems capable of offering at first is brooding, scotch, and endless ranting about Heidegger, she can work with that. While, on the other hand, such a high-strung person as Abe may drive Emma Stone’s Jill up the wall and then some. Yes, this is Woody Allen in his element. Time to get over it and enjoy it.
This is a pleasing Woody Allen film with what some may think features all the usual suspects and themes. For a fan, this is nirvana. And, even for a most casual viewer, this will be a fun romp and thriller to boot. Allen has more screenwriting Academy Award nominations than any other writer and he has tied for third with seven Best Director nominations. While “Irrational Man” may be too close to what we’ve seen before, it’s anybody’s guess as to how that adds up come Oscar time. You can find some early Oscar speculation for 2016 right here. Whatever the fate of his latest film, Woody Allen has created another quality work uniquely his own.