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What begins as, in the words of one character, “verbal masturbation” turns into a very strange piece of work dealing with sex, philosophy, and murder.
Review (with Spoilers) – Below
Characters & Story
At Barylin College, a new professor is coming to town and it seems to be the only thing anyone can talk about. For whether it is his books and papers, him having sex with past students, or losing his wife and best friend, the gossip is spreading. Low and behold, though, Abe (Joaquin Phoenix), is a man who might be passionate about philosophy but lacks common sense when it comes to logic.
Though the man we meet in the beginning of the film, and the one we see in the end, those are two different people. Abe, in the beginning, is a pessimist and depressed because of all life has thrown at him, but with the help of Jill (Emma Stone), and Abe using Rita (Parker Posey), he finds his own brand of happiness. Albeit it required him doing something out of character and a tad bit shocking, but it ultimately maybe that what got him out of his slump was going over the deep end, rather than simply getting out of the water.
While in the theater, listening to what Abe describes as “verbal masturbation,” I must admit sometimes you may get lost and believe Woody Allen is just throwing out the most random of thoughts and ideas. However, with time, and a bit more effort than you may usually give most films, Abe begins to make some sense and some of the things he says makes you think to the point where it will make you want to watch this film more than once.
Speaking on the story and characters in general, as always Stone is likable to the point that seeing her as anything but a love interest or a victim of some kind seems like it could win her a major award; Phoenix once more uses his talent of making slightly weird characters interesting, no matter how uninteresting they may seem on paper; and when it comes to story, honestly it was ok.
I mean, and mind you these are lukewarm comments which will quickly turn to criticism, to me I enjoyed the dialog between characters and felt the midway point in which Abe found a way to beat his depression led to an interesting plot. However, the will he or won’t he of Abe and Jill’s relationship sometimes gave me mixed feelings. For while they did seem sort of cute together, thanks to Stone being perfect as damn near anyone’s love interest, at the same time I wasn’t over the moon and envious of what the two of them have.
Leading to the slew of problems this film has, of which the first is wondering: When the hell is this going to end? For, as noted, a lot of what the film provides is certainly verbal masturbation, and it truly seems that between Woody Allen’s usual older man and young woman trope, mixed in with his musings, which can go from insightful to what you may hear a mentally ill person preach on the sidewalk, you do get a film which begins to feel made because Allen got funding.
As for the actors, after seeing quite a few Emma Stone films over the past few years, I do feel she needs to switch it up. Those big eyes have taken her quite far, and have made her an appealing love interest for many a leading man, but I need her to fully, and unmistakably, play a character who is fully her own person. For with this film she is the love-struck college girl who falls for the bad boy professor, one who I guess has all the education required of an upper-middle-class girl, but the attitude from the boy who lives on the wrong side of the tracks. Which, in itself, isn’t the issue here. What is the issue is that her whole life is drastically changed for him, and she doesn’t necessarily grow as much as she learns that exciting people don’t necessarily tend to be good for long time relationships.
Lastly, not to spoil the ending, but really, all the situations which come after Abe decides to murder someone just make my eyes roll. For between him toying with the fact he did it, much less it seeming a good majority of the main characters suspecting, it makes the almost sudden turn in his mindset, and the film, seem like a leftover idea Allen just wanted to see executed. Which is perhaps how come this film has probably one of the weakest endings I have ever see in the handful of films I have watched of Allen’s.
Overall: TV Viewing
While Abe as a depressed, pessimistic philosophy professor may not be for everyone, I do honestly believe that was when Abe was at his best. For with him deciding murder is the way, and he needs to take life into his own hands, what started off as something interesting, quickly descended into the most drivel of madness which wasn’t at all absolved from the ending in which Abe lived up the movie’s title “Irrational Man.”
Thus why this is marked TV Viewing. It has some good lines about philosophy, but between Abe’s romances, and his mind opening to the idea of murder, it becomes obvious that if the name Woody Allen wasn’t attached, this would be a straight to DVD movie you’d never hear of. Thus showing that despite his scandal, Allen still remains quite powerful.
“It’s very scary when you run out of distractions.”
— Irrational Man