Film Review |Irrational Man – Woody Allen Teams Up With Joaquin Phoenix for a “Mildy Entertaining Farce”

A tormented philosophy professor finds a will to live when he commits an existential act.

Directed by Woody Allen. Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, Parker Posey.


Irrational Man Poster - HeadStuff.orgA weird thing happens about a third of the way through Woody Allen’s Irrational Man. Joaquin Phoenix’s depressed philosopher, doted on by Emma Stone’s student, makes the absolutely insane choice to secretly kill a stranger. This isn’t obvious from the trailer but it’s at this point that the film turns from dull comedy of manners to a, at least, mildly entertaining farce.

The story starts with the arrival of Abe, a cartoonish philosophy lecturer, to some hoity toity East coast institution where Emma Stone’s Jill is studying. Initially this alcoholic lecturer seems to have a Mark Wahlberg in The Happening level of bad teaching skills. Day one; ‘Philosophy is bullshit’. He acts like a fourteen year old’s vision of what a philosopher might be based on a half remembered blurb from the back of ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’. So this troubled, deep, great guy has women throwing themselves at him. First, the age appropriate Parker Posey and then Emma Stone who is drawn to him over her may-as-well-be-penisless boyfriend.


None of this is any consolation to the gloomy, male genius and, in order to feel alive, he decides to kill a corrupt judge based on gossip he overhears in a diner.

Once this plot kicks into gear the film becomes enjoyable fun, even if it’s miles from the director’s best. There is a lovely dramatic irony in Jill’s assumption that she is the youthful source of Abe’s sudden change in the demeanour. The murder story isn’t perfect; the way characters piece together the mystery is ridiculous but also manages to take too long to get to it. It is better, though, than the opening act which falls through the cracks between parody and character based drama; all characters speak like no one on Earth but they also don’t quite feel big enough to be comedic. When free to be over the top the movie, and not just Abe’s life, gets a sense of meaning and drive.

For all that this is, it’s less a comedy movie, more an amusement movie. You’ll chuckle but not laugh and yet it’s got a charm that sustains it. Emma Stone in particular does a great job at making an insufferable character fun to watch. It’s extremely light and enjoyable but never more than that.

Irrational Man is in cinemas on Friday 11th Seprember. Check out the trailer below.

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