Woody Allen made the same movie again
Woody Allen makes basically two movies: Annie Hall, and Crimes and Misdemeanors. When he’s on his game, you get, well, Annie Hall and Crimes and Misdemeanors. When he’s not, you get Magic in the Moonlight and The Curse of the Jade Scorpion. His latest movie—his forty-fifth, which means we should get sentimental about a milestone but ugh, this f*cking guy—is Irrational Man, and it’s a watered down, sh*tty version of Crimes and Misdemeanors. This category of Allen film is marked by an above-average amount of philosophical musing, themes of morality versus justice versus law, and a murder mystery plot. (The Annie Hall movies are all just Annie Hall—Nebbishy Dork falls for Cool Girl.) All of these things are present in Irrational Man, in the most clumsy and ham-fisted of ways. Unless you’re a Woody Allen completist—which, ew, why would you be at this point?—there’s no reason to see this movie.
What makes Blue Jasmine really stand out as an Allen film is that it doesn’t feel like an Allen film. It’s neither Annie Hall nor Crimes and Misdemeanors—it feels fresh and organic and natural and HUMAN. Most Allen movies exist in stylized worlds, either because they’re set in theatrically-rendered historical periods, or because Allen tends to shoot grand old metropolises in a starry-eyed, ignore the dog sh*t on the sidewalk way. But in Blue Jasmine, though San Francisco’s rich architecture and physical environment is on display, so are the cramped apartments and grit and grime of an old, crowded city. Likewise, the characters behave like real people and have realistic problems, and the actors aren’t shoved into standard Allen Archetype shapes, but instead are allowed to give unimpeded, natural performances.
Irrational Man is the opposite of all that. Stagey, stifled, and stylized, the characters aren’t even close to real people, and the actors portraying them don’t seem to know what to do most of the time. Joaquin Phoenix stars as Abe Lucas, the titular irrational man, a burn out philosophy professor who is supposed to be some kind of academic bad boy, but who mostly comes across as disgruntled Joaquin Phoenix in a series of rumpled shirts. He’s also supposed to be a highly desirable romantic figure, but he does nothing to justify this reputation except occupy the protagonist spot in the story. There’s no reason for anyone to find Abe romantically appealing—or just appealing, period—except that characters keep telling us that he is. Speaking of which, various characters narrate throughout the movie, often destroying any sense of suspense or mystery with their narration.
This being on the bad end of the Woody Allen Spectrum, everyone is left hanging out to dry by their writer/director, who did not write them interesting characters nor direct them in an interesting way. Phoenix gets the worst of it—in some scenes he seems completely lost and cannot muster the kind of charm a so-called rogue like Abe demands. Emma Stone fares a little better as Abe’s student/love interest, simply because she’s Emma Stone and can make almost anything work, but she can’t quite overcome the terrible dialogue or cliché situation of her character—her big conflict is being torn between her twerpy college boyfriend and the non-person that is Abe. Parker Posey actually comes out the best, but it’s really just a matter of degrees. She’s passably good in a pretty bad movie. Congratulations?
Someone should really tell Allen that not every idea has to be a movie. Sometimes you can have an idea, and then just keep it to yourself. In the last ten years he’s made eleven movies, two of which are genuinely good (Blue Jasmine, Midnight in Paris), and two of which are pretty good (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Match Point). But we have to pretend like the rest of the output is worthwhile, too, just because they’re movies made by Woody F*cking Allen, but they are not good movies. On average, Allen is not making good movies. Yes, occasionally he puts something together worth talking about, but most of the time he’s just wasting everyone’s time. He’s Woody Allen so I’m supposed to revere him as a comic and a filmmaker, but he’s a f*cking creep who keeps making the same two f*cking movies over and over. Man, f*ck this movie.