When Abe (Joaquin Phoenix) rolls into town to take up a position as professor of philosophy, he does so on a wave of reputation, infamy and false rumour.
Abe is a man with a lot to live up to, only, as so often is the case, the truth is far from the myth; he’s some way from being the gallivanting lothario he’s marked out to be. Instead, he cuts a forlorn figure, down on himself with a life that’s become firmly wedged in the familiar and predictable. He desperately seeks the spark that evades him in everything that he does.
Two women will enter Abe’s life going some way to shaping the events that follow, both of whom have desires on him – (Jill, played by the excellent Emma Stone and Rita, the archetypal bored, middle-aged housewife, played nicely by Parker Posey) – but it’s the chance overhearing of a conversation in a diner that is to finally reignite Abe’s flame.
With that, he sets about hatching the perfect plan to address the great injustice he’s inadvertently witnessed and no amount of good sense is going to dissuade him from reconsidering his actions.
More importantly, Abe is finally a man and a life reborn, filled with a surge of intent, adopting a position of power that only those ‘in the know’ can confidently adopt; a position he greatly relishes. It’s all simply too good not to pursue.
An Irrational Man, underpinned throughout by the groovy, mid-60s cool of The Ramsey Lewis Trio’s ‘The In Crowd,’ continues Woody Allen’s recent run of good form with a tale exploring familiar existential themes that have become such a hallmark of his work over the years.
There are good performances across the board, but on reflection it’s Emma Stone, as Jill, that steals the show.
Initially eager to unearth the dark, brooding mystery that surrounds the elusive Abe, Jill is happy to sacrifice her secure, mapped-out existence with ‘straight as a die’ boyfriend Roy, but it’s quite another story when Abe ultimately reveals his wrong-doings, rendering his once magnetic allure, all of a sudden, not nearly so attractive.
Did Abe’s plan arise from a well intended, albeit misinformed plan to make the world a fairer place, or was it simply a selfish need to reignite an existence that had become humdrum, by exploring the realm of the forbidden?
This is the question!
Whilst it’s easy to suggest that the answer could well lie in the film’s title, Allen, to his credit, doesn’t make things quite as clear-cut as that.
An Irrational Man is not a classic, but it’s another fine piece of work from the ever prolific Woody Allen.