An Irrational Man

Subscribe to Forte Magazine

An Irrational Man

Philosophy professor Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix) arrives at a small Rhode Island university, only to find that his rakish reputation proceeds him. The reality of this one-time womaniser and firebrand is bleaker: he’s a bloated, washed-up drunk who flirts with suicide and reeks of despair. Despite all this, both a somewhat predatory co-worker (Parker Posey) and an idealistic student (Emma Stone) see something more in him, and their faith (and flirtation) is rewarded when he suddenly finds the will to live – by deciding to kill a complete stranger.
Woody Allen’s film for 2016 is firmly mid-level by his standards, lacking laugh-out-loud moments or real insight into his characters. Fortunately, the many dangling loose ends leave it feeling messy in a realistic rather than slapdash way, and the performances add a lot to the goings-on. Stone turns the cliché of an adoring student into something plausible and likeable, while Phoenix presents Lucas’ depression as weighty yet matter-of-fact. His performance turns his formulaic character into a real person stricken with a real malaise, and makes the plot twist that this film hinges on into something more than a superficial joke.