Another year, another Woody Allen film. It must be getting tiring, all this. Coming up with excellent idea after excellent idea, living with the pressure of high expectations. Sickening then that despite this film being another example of style over substance, the substance is unquestionably absorbing and the style is abundant. Much like all of his other recent films, then.
This is the tale of university philosophy professor Abe Lucas, who arrives at a Braylin College, New England with a reputation for being both an alcoholic and a womaniser. He immediately attracts the attention of married chemistry professor Rita (Parker Posey) and philosophy student Jill (Emma Stone), the former of which is married and the latter of which is in a long term relationship to which she is seemingly dedicated. He strikes up an intellectual friendship with the Jill that eventually leads to the suggestion of more. However, lacking enthusiasm for life, Abe seems lost until an unexpected twist of fate turns his life around and with it his attitude towards it.
There are six listed cast members here, but there really are only two stars here. Phoenix and Stone make a formidable pairing. He may have put on some weight for this role, but Phoenix’s allure is still very much there and his convincing lost soul act is enough to make his appeal to the much younger Stone quite believable. The conversations she has with her family, friends and an increasingly frustrated boyfriend (Jamie Blackley) are so natural they could be eavesdropping. The ability Woody Allen has to enter the mind of a young and impressionable individual is uncanny. It’s subtle but enchanting.
When the twist arrives there is inevitably a risk that it will derail the film, drawing away from the realism of the first act as it blossoms into a full-blown thriller. Thankfully it doesn’t stray too far from the mark, walking a fine line but concentrating on Abe’s irrational justifications of his actions rather than spiralling out of control, which probably would have been the easier option.
It doesn’t quite reach the joyful heights seen in Midnight In Paris, though is streets ahead of the unfathomably popular Blue Jasmine. Well worth checking out if you can find it.
Irrational Man is at UK cinemas now.