One thing writer and director Woody Allen is consistent on during his tenure in the 21st century is his commitment to mediocrity. Films that either dabble on the side of something stupendous, but have no real aim or reach to get there; or films that are just tiresome and dull, yet hide some great performances. Irrational Man is a blend of the two, with an interesting premise held back by some reserved writing, and some good performances that don’t quite manage to fulfill their potential given their consistent misfires. In part this is due to the cast, but it is mostly down to the tried and tested boredom that Woody Allen continues to write in the twilight years of a lengthy, classics filled career. Irrational Man verges on being just okay so many times that it becomes frustratingly tiresome rather quickly.
Pairing the incredibly talented Emma Stone with the enviously brilliant Joaquin Phoenix should indeed be a recipe for total success, but they squander their hopes at Irrational Man being anything more than an unmemorable footnote in their iMDB page twelve years down the line. Phoenix and Stone star as Abe and Jill, a college professor and student respectively. They obviously fall into the intrinsically difficult stages of blooming romances, with the expected Allen plot conventions steering them away from one another. If there were ever a time to mention it, Irrational Man feels more like a sickly representation of how Allen feels on the topic of love and his personal failings, rather than anything of real depth or interest.
We’ve seen it all before, it was much better handled in the likes of Annie Hall or Interiors, but for whatever reason Allen presses on. We’re not dealing with Allen on his A-Game though, and possibly the nicest thing to say about Irrational Man is that it feels nothing like a Woody Allen film at all. It’s very glossy, the camera movement is too static, with a few slow panning shots used to gauge the reactions of our supporting characters, rather than the swaying emotions provided by the consistently moving camera in, say, Deconstructing Harry or Husbands and Wives.
The sudden twists and turns featured in Allen’s writing here are by far the biggest downfall of the film. If he were aiming for a traditionally light romantic drama then that would’ve been all well and good, but Allen strives for false attempts at innovation, throwing in murder as a leading wedge between Jill and Abe. It doesn’t work, simply put, and the drastic twists and turns the film takes to make this feel at all believable just don’t settle well, nor are they given enough time to do so. The film takes far too long in setting some aspects of its story in stone, while with others they feel like they’re thrown in at the very last minute.
Irrational Man feels like a relic, something that feels more like a modern adaptation of Educating Rita but without the interesting characters, the suave and sophisticated writing replaced with what I can only presume was a last ditch attempt at re-capturing the thrills of Match Point, the film that managed to somehow revive Allen’s career temporarily. A sad waste of talent that provides us with nothing impressive or innovative, yet isn’t boring enough to switch off until the credits begin to role.