Woody Allen has been churning out decent film-fare each consecutive year for the last 15 years and beyond. Even if his projects don’t appeal, one cannot fault him for being unreliable. And at 79 years old, he’s still good for his age. Every few years there will be a hit – a soiree of cinematic genius that will push more buttons than it misses while the projects in-between are no less fascinating or intriguing. For every Vicky, Cristina Barcelona and Midnight in Paris there will be a To Rome With Love or Cassandra’s Dream. They form an impressive catalogue of sun-drenched heritage buildings and vine riddled brick mansions which hark back to the period when grandmothers would sip high tea and talk about velvet perfume. They remember the Golden age of film-making.
Allen’s latest fare features an awesomely intense, dinner scene involving burnt out College professor, Abe, played by Joaquin Phoenix, Jill, his student, played with possum-eyed naivety by Emma Stone, and Jill’s parents. It highlights Allen’s ingenious scripting while the camera lingers appropriately over shoulders in the sombre lighting – indicating things may be taking a turn for the darker. Despite the second act descent into murderous chaos, a slightly less erratic version of Lument’s Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead emerges, the waffly score, that seems to punctuate all of Woody’s films at some point, keeps the subject matter from becoming bleaker than necessary. It is amazing how much a light piano crescendo can change the tone of an entire film.
A silent undertone suggesting philosophy is, infact, what many people believe it to be: the waffly, self-indulgent, almost nonsensical ramblings of people willing to listen to, and pretend to understand, fellow philosophers, is kept as a running gag throughout. As Phoenix’ Abe puts it; ‘Philosophy is verbal masturbation for the brain’. Just as Abe’s rambling, pseudo-sexual lead has similarities to the rambling, artistic Juan Antonio, or the overtly narcissistic Michael Sheen from Midnight in Paris, there is also a characterisation of modern society’s mundane, bland graduate-cum-middle management drone. Jill’s boyfriend, Roy, played by Jamie Blackley, represents the pale whitewash of political correctness and turtleneck conservatism played out so brilliantly by Chris Messina in Allen’s earlier Spanish romp. These forces always seem to show up at one point or another during Allen’s yearly screenings but now stick out as much as Joaquin’s pot belly. Firth’s Stanley, in Moonlight, was more interesting because he started as the conservative latter and at times became the free-thinking former as Stone’s bewitching Sophie transformed him.
Irrational man is no less intriguing than Allen’s previous works, never reaching the character spark seen in Vicky Cristina nor decanting into the blander territory of You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger. It’s certainly a piece that keeps the mind awake, firing into action with each intellectual exchange, while the sex and mystery bring audiences out of their seats but not quite to the edge. At the end of the day, those who live life practically are more likely to make it out alive.
Reviewed by Nik Brookland.
Irrational Man is out in cinemas from 30 July. For your chance to see the movie simply answer the below question.
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