IRRATIONAL MAN marks Woody Allens’ 50th film as a director (well as far as my count on his IMDB list goes :)), he is nothing but prolific and you either love or hate him. Personally, I am not a fan, but I will say there have been about three films out of the fifty I did enjoy. He pretty much just appears to make the same kind of thing over and over and over, but people spend the money on tickets and a lot of people think he is a genius, good for those people. Kernel John came out of hiatus to review this one and was not overly swept away with it. IRRATIONAL MAN is releasing this Thursday 20th August in Australia, from Entertainment One, it is rated M and runs for 95mins. All the best……….JK.





As of the 2013 census, the city of Newport, Rhode Island, was home to more than 24,000 people, which is quite an impressive figure considering it covers less than 20 km2 of land. While this may seem an odd factoid to start a review off with, it is key to my confusion and bewilderment in relation to this utterly underwhelming film. But we will get to that.

IRRATIONAL MAN is all Woody Allen, all the time. Existentialism, irony, the futility of life, forbidden liaisons, a young impressionable woman falling for the older paternal man; this movie reflects many of the themes found in Allen’s other works (and life for that matter). It stars Joaquin Phoenix (INHERENT VICE) as the impotent, alcoholic, Abe Lucas, and Emma Stone (BIRDMAN) as his young, naïve, easily influenced and susceptible student, Jill Pollard.

Set in and around the grounds and locale of the fictional Braylin College in Newport, Rhode Island, Lucas is the unkempt, dull and overweight professor of philosophy who has come to Braylin to teach for a semester. Rumours surround Lucas and his sad past, including the breakdown of his marriage and the death of his reporter friend during the war in Iraq. He also has a reputation as a bit of a ladies’ man, both with fellow faculty members as well as his students. Pollard is instantly fascinated with her teacher’s dark and broken nature, and despite already having the perfect boyfriend, finds herself intensely attracted to Lucas in the most illogical manner that only Allen could devise.


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While sitting in a café together, Lucas and Pollard overhear a woman at another table complaining to her friends how she is about to lose custody of her children. Going through a messy divorce, the woman’s ex-husband has managed to land himself a lawyer who is friends with the judge presiding over her case, Judge Spangler. This illegal favouritism between the judge and lawyer has the woman convinced that the hearing will go her husband’s way. So moved is Lucas by the woman’s plight, that he decides to do the only thing that a stand up, educational pillar of the community such as himself can do in such a circumstance: murder the judge.

Driven from his existential funk, Lucas is filled with a new purpose as he attempts to devise the perfect murder of a man he has never met. When the deadly deed is done, a once listless and empty Lucas now finds his life brimming with joy and purpose; drunk on the sun and air instead of the single malt scotch he had been drowning his sorrows in everyday prior. Lucas even manages to get his mojo back, which comes as great pleasure (pun intended) to Pollard, his departmental colleague Rita played by Parker Posey (SUPERMAN RETURNS), and any other member of the college campus he happened to be diddling at the time.


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What follows next is a chaotic and highly improbable sequence of chance events that leads Pollard to suspect Lucas as the murderer, even as the rest of the city remains baffled by Spangler’s death. Of prime import to the whole scenario is that even months after the judge’s demise every person and entity in the whole movie, media included, is still discussing it. As I mentioned, there are tens of thousands of people living in the area where this film is set, and I am supposed to believe that nothing newsworthy happens at all to distract any of the actors away from Spangler’s murder during the considerable time period this movie covers? When Sally from the finance department at the company where I work was caught having an affair with Frank from IT, it was all anyone could talk about! For about a week that is, until Tom from HR crashed his car into a pylon in the underground car park after a liquid lunch, then everyone forgot all about the Sal-Fran incident, as it was known. And while I recognise that this is a silly point to get hung up on, the whole film’s plot revolves around the fact that no one can shut up about Spangler. As a result, instead of focusing on the deep philosophical aspects of the film as Allen no doubt intended, such as what it means to be always truthful in an otherwise vicious world, the darkness and malaise of a fruitless existence, and the joys and highs of a motivated life, I just kept scratching my head in incredulity at the whole situation.


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Besides the weak plot, the writing overall was quite bland and shallow in places. Having seen Stone emote the crazy out of scenes in films such as BIRDMAN, her acting prowess is well established. Sadly, thanks to Allen’s poor script and lacklustre context, Stone appeared to struggle with some of her moments in IRRATIONAL MAN, as she strained to find the inspiration for the scene. Overall though, her and Phoenix’s performances were quite good.

The same cannot be said for the supporting cast. Pollard’s boyfriend Roy, played by Jamie Blackley (IF I STAY), and Posey’s performance are both average and unremarkable. The remaining college students, looking as if they had been drafted straight out of a Ralph Lauren commercial, are equally unbelievable in their performances.

Of redeeming note is the cinematography. Helmed by celebrated cinematographer Darius Khondji, the film’s scenes are beautifully shot and structured, perfectly capturing the moments being played out onscreen and drawing the audience ever further into Allen’s world.

Overall, IRRATIONAL MAN is a forgettable film with a feeble plot that tries far too hard to revel in its own cerebral brilliance. Allen fans will no doubt disagree, but then, Allen fans are probably the only ones who will truly find enjoyment in this movie.


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