Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
The latest Woody Allen movie can be summed up by the title of a 1958 book titled “Irrational Man: A Study In Existential Philosophy.”
In fact, the Woodman appropriates that very title. His “Irrational Man” is a film about a college philosophy professor who finds himself in an existential crisis.
Woody Allen’s life itself has been one long existential crisis. His comedy shtick was one of nattering neurosis. However, if you peek under the blanket of his jokes, you’ll find an intellectual huddling there in the dark, contemplating the meaning of life. Or lack thereof.
The telling of “Irrational Man” relies on familiar Woody Allen themes: At the small Rhode Island campus of Braylin College, dispirited prof Abe Lucas (played by Joaquin Phoenix) finds meaning to his life by having an affair with one of his students (Emma Stone).
The older man - younger woman storyline has been recurrent since “Manhattan.” The adoration of a father figure was iconized by “Annie Hall.” The worship of the gamin was reflected in his relationships with Diane Keaton and Mia Farrell … and Soon Yi.
“Irrational Man” is sharing Woody’s personal philosophy at Tropic Cinema.
But the film is in part a Hitchcockian murder mystery. Paunchy, melancholy Abe Lucas decides to randomly (more or less) kill a judge. Kind of like a single-handed crisscross from “Strangers On a Train.” This self-assigned purpose is like Viagra to the soul. And body.
A fellow faculty member (Parker Posey) and his most brilliant student (Stone) are the main beneficiaries of Abe’s renewed sex drive. The audience is spared meaningless philosophy lessons on Kierkegaard.
As Abe tells his students, “much of philosophy is verbal masturbation.” So are Woody Allen movies. But they give us pleasure.