Underwhelming and in many ways tedious, Woody Allen‘s Irrational Man (Sony Pictures Classics, opening today) is Match Point‘s slower, less engaging brother. One of the things I’ll always savor about Match Point is how perfect the last ten minutes are — they amount to one of his all-time best endings. And one of the things I’ll never forget about Irrational Man is how unsatisfying the finale feels. Leaden, dispiriting — it makes you feel bitter and abandoned.
After catching it at last May’s Cannes Film Festival I noted that “the most striking thing about it is Joaquin Phoenix‘s pot belly. I fully recognized the familiar, dissolute, older-guy malaise that his college professor character is suffering from during the first 40 minutes or so (which the gut is supposed to be a metaphor for, I presume), but nothing Phoenix says or does during the entire film has a chance against that mound of pudding hanging over his belt. It’s stand-back huge. He looks pregnant.
“Irrational Man‘s basic theme, which Allen expounded on somewhat during an early afternoon press conference, is that we all need distractions to maintain a sense of well-being lest we confront the basic horror of existence.
“Irrational is essentially about the perverse nature of Phoenix’s distraction, an act that he feels will make the world into a slightly better place. The fact that it’s not a creative but a destructive one provides the slight story tension, but his irrational act is discussed and dissected so relentlessly by a Greek chorus of onlookers that a kind of ‘alright already’ settles in.
“A guy tweeted today that it could be called Kvetch Point.
“Irrational Man isn’t the first Woody late-period film that feels lazy, lumpy and first-drafty. The screenplay feels half drawn from Woody’s standard pool of existential gloom and half composed like a Nancy Drew (or Miss Marple, as one British journalist suggested) murder mystery with Emma Stone‘s character, a student of Phoenix’s who gradually lures him into an affair, piecing together the evidence.”