The jaunty Ramsey Lewis jazz instrumental “The In-Crowd” underscores “Irrational Man,” Woody Allen’s latest film.
It’s a gratingly dischordant pairing, Allen’s mostly-serious riff on Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment,” set up as some sort of daft existential comedy.
And it’s not the only thing jarring about the film, which pairs up Emma Stone as the student lover/narrator of this tale of a drifting, burnt out philosophy professor (Joaquin Phoenix) who finds purpose when he picks out a seemingly corrupt judge worth killing to make “the world a better place.”
Abe Lucas has been drinking and misbehaving his way through academia for years, slurring out boozy pronouncements about “situational ethics” and our “style over substance” age to gullible coeds.
“Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.”
Stone plays Jill, who has a hint of Abe’s reputation, is smart enough to see “He’s brilliant, but a sufferer,” and that a lot of what he’s talking about is just “verbal masturbation.” But she beds him, nevertheless.
It’s during one of Abe’s “Dostoyevsky GOT it” rants that he hits on a solution to his ennui. Jill never thinks he’ll go through with it, but then, she hasn’t figured out that he’s also sleeping with the on-the-make married faculty member played by Parker Posey, either.
It’s tempting read this movie — and it is better read than watched — as a guidebook to Allen’s late-life insecurities. Here is the uneducated comic dropping the names of great writers and philosophers, lecturing us on Dostoyevsky and underlining “I’m doing ‘Crime and Punishment’ here!” And here is the publicly-shamed womanizer rationalizing yet another thinking man’s affair with a barely-legal girl.
More problematic for some of us is his widening disconnect from the real world and the ways real people talk. His dialogue is stilted, as dated as Tennessee Williams, without Williams’ poetry.
And it takes a lot more to create a believable movie college professor than giving the guy the cliched “college professor car” — an aged Volvo. Phoenix gets the dissipation right, but never for a second suggests a man who makes his leaving thinking and writing.
And Stone? That career strategy of “Only work with great directors” has delivered two Woody Allen stinkers and the humiliation of “Aloha.” How’s that working out for you?
Only Posey lightens up and lights up “Irrational Man,” which, for all its hectoring faults, is still a “Woody Allen Film,” and thus not a total write-off. At least the Newport, Rhode Island and environs locations are fresh.
MPAA Rating: R for some language and sexual content
Cast: Emma Stone, Joaquin Phoenix, Parker Posey
Credits: Written and directed by Woody Allen. A Sony Pictures Classics release.
Running time: 1:36