It’s probably not going to take long for Woody Allen’s “Irrational Man,” which is about a in appropriate sexual relationship between an older man and a younger woman that leads to a violent transgression of conventional morality, to get caught up in the controversy around Allen’s own past. But at Cannes, critics are more concerned with placing it in the context of Allen’s work than his life, generally finding it a worthy but lesser followup to “Crimes and Misdemeanors” and “Match Point.” “Irrational Man,” which stars Joaquin Phoenix as a teacher who gets involved with student Emma Stone, as well as carrying on with more age-appropriate colleague Parker Posey. The philosophy Phoenix teaches in college bleeds over into life when he begins to contemplate a murder, not a crime of passion but a calculated act in the purported service of making the world a more just places. According to the initial reviews, the film’s tone is less serious than its predecessors in Allen’s unofficial Dostoevsky Trilogy, and not as sure-footed. A few critics find the wobbling distasteful, others simply a sign of Allen’s general hit-or-miss method. By and large, the reviews conclude, if you like Allen you’ll like this one, and with the questions about Allen’s personal morality driving many away from his work, hardcore fans are most of what he has left.
Reviews of “Irrational Man”
Scott Foundas, Variety
Allen’s latest, “Irrational Man,” adds to a tally that also includes “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” “Match Point” and the little-seen “Cassandra’s Dream” — only, unlike those films’ homicidal protagonists, the philosophical anti-hero of Allen’s 45th feature kills not for love or money, but rather for a kind of existential clarity. That conceit puts a fresh spin on a familiar premise and marks “Irrational Man” as one of the Woodman’s more offbeat and ambitiously weird projects since the fragmented “Deconstructing Harry” in 1997, though less conventionally entertaining than recent home runs like “Blue Jasmine” and “Midnight in Paris.”
Graham Fuller, Screen Daily
Woody Allen comes out with all guns blazing on his modestly appointed but fiercely intellectual thriller “Irrational Man” — though the one-liners mouthed by Joaquin Phoenix’s initially nihilistic philosophy professor are unusually grim. Astutely guided by Allen, who clocks up his 45th feature as a writer-director, Phoenix and co-star Emma Stone, playing a college student smitten with the Byronic prof, excel as a more dangerously entwined couple than Stone and Colin Firth in Allen’s frothy 2014 comedy “Magic in the Moonlight.” They’re shrewdly supported by Parker Posey, whose sexually frustrated, tousle-haired campus wife is a benign version of Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
Peter Bradshaw, Guardian
Woody Allen’s “Irrational Man” is another of the amiable but forgettable and underpowered jeux d’esprit that he produces with an almost somnambulist consistency and persistence. It’s a tongue-in-cheek mystery which is neither quite scary and serious enough to be suspenseful, nor witty or ironic enough to count as a comedy. Allen has touched upon the notion of guilt before, in his heavy-going London drama “Match Point,” but most importantly in his wonderful “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” in which the crime is genuinely shocking. “Irrational Man” is a good idea, a sketch for a movie, but the movie itself is unrealized.
David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter
The big questions of philosophy, morality and the randomness or meaning of existence that have surfaced repeatedly in his work bubble up again in ways more playful than deep, as does the sardonic ambivalence toward academia. But all that shouldn’t suggest some sort of Woody’s-Greatest-Hits retread; the energy and freshness here are quite intoxicating.
David Ehrlich, Little White Lies
For some time now, it’s been a self-evident truth that Woody Allen movies have come to exist only in relationship to one another, as the characters with which he populates them exist only in relation to himself. This isn’t a new phenomenon, and no one familiar with the inertia of the iconoclast’s working life would ever expect the forty-sixth feature he’s directed to change that. It doesn’t. While it’s refreshingly difficult to classify this latest offering as either major or minor Woody (it falls somewhere into the nebulous void between the two), Allen’s annual summer delivery is still easy to locate on the matrix of the filmmaker’s work. But, in its best moments, “Irrational Man” has the uncharacteristic temerity to question itself, or at least the chutzpah to convince you that it might.
Eric Kohn, Indiewire
At first a lighthearted romp that shifts into dark comedy midway through, “Irrational Man” owes much to Phoenix’s subversive energy and Allen’s capacity to write involving monologues loaded with existential ideas. That’s not quite enough to make up for a pair of under-realized female characters played by Emma Stone and Parker Posey, or the rather unconvincing depictions of romantic confusion that complicate the plot, but it’s close — and for Allen fans, it’s enough.
Sasha Stone, Wrap
By now, so much of what Woody Allen is doing with his films is putting all of the same pieces back in a can, shake it up, and dumping them all back out in a slightly different order. All in all, there is nothing to hate about “Irrational Man,” nothing to passionately love, but it should hit the Woody demographic just fine and that demographic is shifting away from the film nerds and over to the senior citizens who turn out in droves to see this kind of delightful arthouse fare.
Woody Allen’s Irrational Man returns to pet themes & philosophies but breezes along nicely. Phoenix & (esp) Stone are great #Cannes2015
— Jamie Graham (@jamie_graham9) May 15, 2015
IRRATIONAL MAN: Not exactly the light comedy it’s been sold as, this is yet another Woody Allen meditation on getting away with murder
— Kyle Buchanan (@kylebuchanan) May 15, 2015
— John Bleasdale (@drjonty) May 15, 2015
IRRATIONAL MAN is middling Woody Allen, a Dostoyevskian ethical thought experiment with decent moments that culminate in little #Cannes2015
— Jason Gorber (@filmfest_ca) May 15, 2015
Irrational Man (Allen): 58. My favorite of the plots he recycles; shaky execution, but great fun as pure story once it kicks in. A+ Winston.
— Mike D’Angelo (@gemko) May 15, 2015
IRRATIONAL MAN: boozy, jazzy nihilism and the toxic intellectual poseurs. Meatier and deeper than it first appears, loved it #Cannes2015
— FilmLand Empire (@FilmLandEmpire) May 15, 2015
IRRATIONAL MAN: A thriller played out as a light comedy — which in theory is interesting! I really didn’t like it.
— Alison Willmore (@alisonwillmore) May 15, 2015
I… really liked Irrational Man?
— Richard Lawson (@rilaws) May 15, 2015
IRRATIONAL MAN – philosophy + murder = meh . KVETCH POINT #Cannes2015
— Jonathan Romney (@JonathanRomney) May 15, 2015
So… Irrational Man… WTF. Dark clumsy farce cloying at strong performances. Obtuse platitudes, intelligentsia lite. #cannes2015
— Diana Drumm (@DianaDDrumm) May 15, 2015
IRRATIONAL MAN: If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, would it make a good Woody Allen movie? #Cannes2015
— Peter Howell (@peterhowellfilm) May 15, 2015