Movie Review: “Irrational Man” – Lifeless

Written by Matt Butler August 27, 2015

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When it comes to movies, I like to think I have a decent capacity in foresight. I knew going into Paper Towns not to raise my hopes too high, just like I knew to abandon all hope completely when I bought my ticket for Pixels. But sometimes a film gets such limited limelight that the only way to really know is to see for yourself. Sometimes, for better or worse, you’ll find something that really surprises you.

Irrational Man is the latest in Woody Allen’s yearly film entries, starring Joaquin Phoenix as Abe, a down-and-out philosophy professor. Though he is an intolerable cynic and perpetual bore, Abe is the apple of everyone’s eye, especially of his fellow professor, Rita (Parker Posey), and his ace-student, Jill (Emma Stone). In the midst of an illicit affair with the two -which he seems to be having the easiest time concealing from everyone- Abe finds he can’t stand his dull and pretentious character -I mean life- and decides upon doing something most… irrational.

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So what does he do? Well, no spoilers… but he kills somebody. Yes, the trailer does an effortless job of concealing that plot point, which would make what I just said, technically, a spoiler. Here’s the thing though: Spoilers have weight, they affect the story and the characters in an exciting and unpredictable way, spoilers mean something. The trouble with Irrational Man is that once this twist comes into play, about halfway through the film, the tone of the story remains exactly the same. There’s nothing to put you on edge, in fact, it only becomes more predictable.

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This is largely due to Woody Allen’s expository dialogue cranked up to ad nauseam. With Phoenix and Stone doubled down as narrators, we are given full disclosure of their tired and vacant world. Abe is stuck reciting repetitious pessimistic philosophic jargon, and Jill has almost nothing to do but say how much she loves Abe (seriously, you could make a drinking game out of this). The way Irrational Man’s characters work seems to be with the intent to make every aspect of the film as bland and digestible as possible. Nothing is surprising or engaging because we already know exactly what is going to happen, and yet the film still feels the need to explain itself over and over again. It’s like a first year philosophy paper that got made into an episode of Days of Our Lives.

“Philosophy is verbal masturbation”

The film also has a tedious editing style. It’s decent enough visually, though there’s little to suggest any real attention was given to cinematography, with the exception of its long takes. These are used prominently with scenes of Phoenix walking (Walking Phoenix, sorry, not sorry). Coupled with the monotonously peppy score and lack of energy from Phoenix, you’d think this was just footage of him walking to the set, but the subject matter suggests that it’s intended to instill suspense. It’s irrational choices like this that make the film’s tone impossible to decipher. If it’s a drama, it’s not dramatic, if it’s a comedy, it’s not funny, if it’s a dramedy, then it fails doubly so. I’ve heard some critics call this movie a thriller… God help us.

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I just can’t make heads or tails with this one. At one point, when everything was just too tedious and phoned in for me to take, I found myself in a fit of uncontrollable laughter. I thought, maybe that’s what I’ll take from this: a film so bad it’s hysterical. Sadly, even that feeling subsided after a few minutes, and all I felt was broken.

“You suffer from despair”

Now, I value just about any film that provokes an emotional response. It means the rapid succession of images are not only simulating movement, but resonating an idea with the audience. It’s a pretty profound feat when you think about it. This makes it all the more uncomfortable for me to admit that Irrational Man shares this distinction, as the most infuriating film I’ve seen in quite some time (should I even mention Pixels?). But what aggravates me even more is the notion that Irrational Man was intended that way, and that Woody Allen’s fans -Woody Allen apologists– are legitimately appreciative of that, which seems to be the case. Simply put, Irrational Man is an irrational film for an irrational audience.

My Rating: 1/10

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About Matt Butler

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is a strapping young English Major with a fiery passion for the art of cinematic storytelling. He likes long walks on the beach and knows the proper use of 'your' and 'you're'. (Example: I hope YOU'RE having a wonderful time browsing our site, and I hope you enjoy YOUR time reading my film reviews. I wrote them just for you.)

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