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Irrational Man (9/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 94 minutes.

OK for children.

Abe (Joaquin Phoenix) is an unhappy philosophy professor teaching a summer class as a visiting professor at Braylin, a small what appears to be east coast liberal arts college. Jill (Emma Stone) is one of his students, who becomes enamored with him. They talk of philosophy and philosophers like Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, and existentialism and Sartre, and then something happens that suddenly turns their lives into a philosophical conundrum.

Writer/director Woody Allen says that he was deeply influenced by Ingmar Bergman’s films as a child and, as a result read Kirkegaard and Nietzsche, philosophers who had influenced Bergman. He says, “I don’t think that anything I’ve written or dramatized has any originality philosophically. I’m simply a product of the philosophers I’ve read. I think the most you could say is that there are coherent philosophical themes that run through all or most of my pictures over the years. But they are obsessions of mine that center around issues many men have thought about. I’m interested in depressing realities that haunt me. They’ve haunted artists and thinkers far beyond me in every way, but I deal with them through my own point of view.”

Like most of Woody’s protagonists, Abe is a haunted, depressed man, searching for a happy life, which seems to have eluded him, despite his success and fame. This attracts young Jill and they become friends, a friendship which is severely tested.

This is one of Allen’s more complex scripts. The pace is perfect, the dialogue smart, the acting first rate with fine supporting performances by Jamie Blackley as Jill’s boyfriend, Roy, and Parker Posey as an unhappy faculty wife with the hots for Abe.

The music consists mostly of the Ramsay Lewis Trio that sets the tone for the film, constantly reminding one that this is a light-hearted comedic presentation, despite the dark undertones. The film was shot in Newport, RI at picturesque Salve Regina College, and the locations were in Newport, Providence, and surrounding areas.

Bergman to the contrary notwithstanding, throughout this film I kept thinking what it would have been like if Alfred Hitchcock had directed Woody’s script instead of Woody, with a cast of, maybe, Grace Kelly or Joan Fontaine and Ray Milland or Cary Grant instead of Emma Stone and Joaquin Phoenix. Actually, I knew what it would have been like. It still would have been 9/10 but it wouldn’t have been a comedy. It would have been a tense thriller on the order of Suspicion (1941) or Dial M for Murder (1954).