The first Woody Allen movie I saw in theaters was Manhattan Murder Mystery, the 1993 film that reteamed him with Diane Keaton, his co-star from so many of his classic films from the 1970s, including Annie Hall and Manhattan. Though critics considered it a pretty light-weight entry into Allen’s oeuvre, there was no mistaking the unmistakeable chemistry that he and his former lover and still close friend Keaton shared. I enjoyed it when I was 16 years old, and 23 years later, I still do. Which could be why I also found some pleasure and enjoyment in Allen’s latest film, Irrational Man.
Joaquin Phoenix stars at Professor Abe Lucas, who teaches philosophy and whose student, Jill (Emma Stone), comes under his spell. One day on a lunch date, the two overhear a woman talking about the custody case she is about to lose because of an alleged unethical judge. Abe, continually in search of some meaning in his life, decides to kill the judge.
In many ways, Irrational Man is really stock Allen – May-December romance, a man’s existential crisis that makes him desireable to the woman around him. The director’s been playing with this same formula for 45 years, so to expect him to change at this point is unreasonable.
There’s a cadence to Allen’s dialogue, a use of language that is distinctly his own, and I don’t think either Phoenix or Stone nail it in this particular film. Though both are incredibly talented, and obviously intelligent, I didn’t completely buy their delivery of Allen’s cerebral script. Phoenix fares better, but seeing as this was Stone’s second film with Allen (after Magic in the Moonlight), I have no doubt that her work with Woody will continually improve over time, should that relationship continue.
Like Manhattan Murder Mystery, Irrational Man is a slight piece of the Woody Allen cannon, but I do love what Woody does with a murder. Much like Crimes and Misdemeanors, the film details the ego of men, and the evil that they can do. The former film played that conflict serious, while Manhattan Murder Mystery did it for laughs – Irrational Man falls someplace in the middle. Which is actually an apropos description of the film as a whole – while not a horrible Allen film by any stretch, it’s nowhere near classic status either.