Irrational Man (2014)
What did Kierkegaard think of contrivance?
Woody Allen must have missed that chapter.
In his new film Irrational Man, Woody substitutes Off-the-Cliff Notes. Irrational Man is a rigged, contrived film about a philosophy professor who comes to teach at a New England college. Woody skimps on logic.
Irrational Man is the story of Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix), who is a "lost soul." At his new place of employment, he teaches Jill (Emma Stone), a student who impresses him. He enjoys her company and they start - do I say it? - a Platonic relationship. But she wants more.
A murder plot stimulates Abe, and he begins to come alive. He starts to smell the roses, but Woody puts plastic flowers in their place.
Fate intervenes with drastic consequences.
For half the film Jill is an intelligent, sensitive, perceptive, romantic character. Then suddenly she turns into a strident middlebrow. It's not Stone's fault. Woody suddenly pulls the rug out under her character, and she flails.
A scene that foreshadows her abrupt change is when she picks a flashlight instead of a teddy bear as her prize at an amusement park. I knew we were in trouble. Nothing in her previous characterization even hints that she would make that mundane choice.
Her change into a shrew may have personal resonance for Woody, but it lacks credibility in this movie.
Joaquin Phoenix - who was wonderful in Inherent Vice (2014) - rambles through his role. Parker Posey is aptly vital as a woman who is attracted to Abe.
The blandest character ever in the history of Woody Allen films is Jill's boyfriend Roy (Jamie Blackley). He's a cipher.
Woody uses perky music (Ramsey Lewis) during several draggy scenes, but they're still listless. Woody's screenplay is superficial, although he does throw the names of Dostoevsky and Emily Dickinson into the stew. Also he includes a laundry list of philosophers.
Woody made a terrific film about crime and consequences in Match Point (2005). But Irrational Man turns Match Point into Pointless.
In the last seven years, I've included a Woody Allen movie in my annual top ten - Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008), Midnight in Paris (2011), and Blue Jasmine (2013). Alas, not this year.
Kierkegaard said, "Only one deception is possible in the infinite sense, self-deception."
Did he see Irrational Man?