For the past few films, Woody Allen appears to have developed an obsession with murder. He either wants to murder someone, is watching too many Dateline reruns or fancies himself as a modern-day Agatha Christie with cynicism and philosophy. Basically, he has been making the same movie for the past ten years.
Presented off-competition in Cannes, Irrational Man recycles his brand of humor, irony and references to Frenchisms and Eurocentric philosophy, wrapped in a murderous plot.
Joaquin Phoenix stars as Abe Lucas, an admired philosophy professor has hit rock bottom because of his emotional failures and his tendency to drown his sorrows in spirits. His reputation precedes him before he even arrives at the small-town college to teach philosophy and quote loads of European philosophers like Kant and Sartre. And there’s something about the bad boy that women are attracted to. He soon becomes involved with to women. Rita Richards (Parker Posey), a fellow professor who wants to leave her husband and run away to Spain with Abe, and student Jill Pollard (Emma Stone, very moved on the red carpet in Cannes), who becomes his confidante and falls for him right under the nose of her devoted boyfriend Roy (Jamie Blackley).
With his sexual performance issues and philosophical conversations with the pretty ingénue Jill, we are led to believe the irrational middle-aged man with the potbelly is going to provoke a catfight between the two women, but instead the movie takes a detour back to his previous films, thus continuing his series on how to almost get away with murder.
While having lunch with Jill in a local diner, they overhear a woman saying she’d like the judge who took away the custody of her children to get cancer. Feeling like the world would be a better place without this judge, he decides to eliminate him. It gives him the purpose he desperately needed to feel reinvigorated again. (Because two women demanding his attention are not enough.) With this new lease on life (his), his erectile dysfunction is cured, he is able to embrace life again. But as these women’s infatuation wears off, things begin to unfold.
While one can argue that Match Point was a full-on thriller, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Cassandra’s Dreams and Irrational Man are more self-indulgent projects, a pastime if you will. While Woody Allen’s past contributions to cinema are considered classics, his brand of humor and social observations unparalleled, he’s the first to admit his last few films have been about distracting himself: “We’re all gonna end up in the same bad position sooner or later. The only way out of it, as an artist, is to try to come up with something where you can explain to people why life is worth living,” he said during the press conference in Cannes.
Thierry Frémaux, Delegate General of the Cannes Film festival, had wanted to include the film in the official competition. Woody is smart enough to have refused. But even though it reuses the same ideas, Irrational Man is still entertaining. See? He got away with it again.