Woody Allen’s philosophical romance, “Irrational Man,” had its world premiere in Cannes on Wednesday, and the first question I’m always asked is: “Is this good Woody, or lesser Woody?”
It’s lesser. Thankfully, the press conference after the screening was more entertaining.
The movie deals with a professor of philosophy who’s visiting a fictional university in Providence, Rhode Island, for the summer. He has made a big name for himself through his writings, and he’s also known to be a ladies man. So the students and staff are a bit atwitter.
Joaquin Phoenix, looking paunchy and far from a ladies man, plays the professor, Abe Lucas. Emma Stone is Jill, one of his admiring students. And Parker Posey plays Rita, a married professor who hopes that Abe will help her escape an unhappy marriage.
Both Stone and Posey are great in their roles. And Phoenix can certainly act. But his potbelly is getting in the way of his leading-man status. Perhaps his Abe could lose some weight if he’d stop drinking from a flask all the time.
At any rate, Abe and Jill are at a diner one day, and they overhear a conversation about a nasty divorce, and the wife is facing all sorts of legal bills in her efforts to keep her kids. There’s a particularly nasty judge who is causing her problems. And both Abe and Jill think that the world would be wonderful if the judge were dead.
Abe is at a crossroads. He’s drifting in life, and he needs a purpose. So, without Jill’s knowing, he begins to plot a way to murder the judge.
Allen said he was trying to address everyday life and the turning points that come from choices. And since this is the stuff of philosophy, you can expect to hear the characters discuss Kant and Heidegger and all the others. It’s a lifelong concern of Allen’s, and he knows the ins and outs of such matters.
In his typically dry way, Allen said all of us delude ourselves in some fashion to ignore the fact that we’re all going to die, and that everything we’ve ever done or written or created will eventually go poof at the end of the world. So we’re all insignificant. But he’s interested in the choices (religions and other belief systems) that we make to keep us distracted from the truth.
Allen said that’s why he makes movies. “When I make movies, I distract myself, and it’s a wonderful distraction.” And he said he thinks it’s important to have “some moments where you’re not facing reality.”
“I watch Fred Astaire and distract myself from the reality that I’l be old one day in the very distant future,” he quipped. (Allen will turn 80 later this year).
In response to a question, Allen also said he regretted signing up to do a TV-like series for Amazon. He said he thought it would be easy, but that it has become a nightmare, and he’s afraid of a “cosmic embarrassment.”
“Irrational Man” has its moments, and it’s no cosmic embarrassment. But it’s also not his best. Still, many will enjoy the twisty, delightfully naughty ending.