Philosophy professor Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix) is at rock bottom emotionally, unable to find any meaning or joy in life. Soon after arriving to teach at a small town college, Abe gets involved with two women: Rita Richards (Parker Posey) a lonely professor who wants to be rescued from her unhappy marriage and Jill Pollard (Emma Stone), his best student, who becomes his closest friend. While Jill loves her boyfriend Roy (Jamie Blackley) she finds Abe's tortured, artistic personality and exotic past irresistible. Even as Abe displays signs of mental imbalance, Jill's fascination grows. Everything changes when Abe and Jill overhear a stranger's conversation and become drawn in.
Review by Louise Keller:
Morality, existentialism and murder make a heady brew in Woody Allen's latest offering in which theory and pragmatism play Russian roulette. With its somewhat cynical view of life, love and sense of purpose, the film plays out beautifully on an intellectual level, while the compelling presence of Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone brings a formidable dynamic. The extremes of human emotions are also portrayed, depicting every bump in the road sign-posted love - from infatuation, romance, infidelity and disdain. Allen shows his skill in structuring and delivering a vibrant, idea-filled script filled with fascinating characters. Unsurprisingly, we can see recognizable elements of Allen in Phoenix's complicated philosophy professor.
Much of philosophy is verbal masturbation, says Abe (Phoenix), whose reputation precedes him when he joins the college staff in an unnamed small town. The spring semester is over and the whole campus is buzzing about the controversial new member of staff who claims anxiety is the dizziness of freedom. Dual narration by Abe and impressionable student Jill Pollard (Stone) gives equal voice to both characters: he struggles to find a reason to live while he becomes her reason, finding him fascinating, stimulating and vulnerable.
Abe drinks single malt whisky as a distraction, can't breathe and has writer's block; bored, unhappily married professor Rita Richards (Parker Posey) wants to unblock Abe in the bedroom but Abe is so stitched up, he has performance issues. Posey is great in the role - she is the epitome of the dissatisfied woman with downturned mouth. It is easy to understand why Jill is attracted to Abe, who is the total opposite of her vanilla boyfriend Roy (Jamie Blackley). He and Rita are equally jealous of Jill's relationship with Abe. Ah, the complications of the eternal love triangle...
The scene in which Abe and Jill overhear a conversation between strangers sitting at the next cubicle in the local diner unexpectedly brings clarity to Abe. He suddenly feels alive as life comes together as he discovers how he can make a difference. Everything becomes unblocked - at last. It is as though all the theories about which he has philosophized can at last be put into practice. Death no longer is romanticized but is now celebrated.
The best scenes are between Phoenix and Stone - they have such different appeal, yet together they are dynamite. As for the plot's direction, we breathlessly follow the events as they play out, wondering where it might lead. Like events in Allen's Match Point, chance plays a key role.
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IRRATIONAL MAN (M)
CAST: Emma Stone, Joaquin Phoenix, Parker Posey, Jamie Blackley, Meredith Hagner, Ethan Phillips
PRODUCER: Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum, Edward Walson
DIRECTOR: Woody Allen
SCRIPT: Woody Allen
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Darius Khondji
EDITOR: Not credited
MUSIC: Not credited
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Art direction: Carl Sprague
RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Entertainment One
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 20, 2015