Joaquin Phoenix plays Abe Lucas, a tormented professor who teaches philosophy, which is where he meets student Jill (Emma Stone). While she may be entwined in a relationship with the affable Roy (Jamie Blackley), she becomes completely enamoured by the professor, finding his fragility of great appeal. She’s not the only one either, as Abe’s colleague Rita (Parker Posey) also falls for the troubled genius. However he’s far too caught up in an existential crisis, pondering the meaning of life and whether he has the will to carry on – until one day he overhears a conversation at a local diner, and it inspires him to try something he never has before…
If you look at what made Midnight in Paris or Blue Jasmine so special, it was how they attempted something different, almost incomparable to some of his other, recent endeavours. While the former was surreal and enchanting, the latter was painfully naturalistic, with a depressive, vulnerable woman at the core of the story. However Irrational Man, as evident from the title, presents a return to type, with a protagonist who is your typical Allen creation; a misunderstood, creatively inclined male, troubled romantically but intellectually profound. However, reverting back to something familiar is not always a bad thing – especially when you have somebody like Phoenix embodying the aforementioned role.
Whenever Allen casts actors in that typical Allen role, they often attempt to affectionately impersonate him somewhat. Perhaps not deliberately, but by merely portraying these figures, narrating in that same self-deprecating poetic verse, it can become almost unavoidable. Owen Wilson did a fine job, Jesse Eisenberg’s was a little too contrived and Colin Firth’s was, well, a little too Colin Firth like. But Phoenix does a remarkable job, as while we can connect with the distinctive sensibilities that come with an Allen lead, wallowing in self-pity and embracing pessimism, he manages to add that identifiable, elusive nature that makes him such an absorbing, magnetic performer. He has this fragility of sorts, which allows you in, but never close enough to know exactly what’s on his mind. It’s different – and different is good.
Irrational Man has a compelling narrative, and while it can take a while to fully get on board with, initially appearing as your typical romantic piece about two people who probably should be together but can’t quite find a way to make it work – we then take a dramatic turn, building towards a captivating final act. This title also marks the very final production produced by the legendary Jack Rollins, who has collaborated with Allen ever since Take the Money and Run in 1969, working on projects such as Annie Hall and Manhattan. This may not be in quite the same league, but certainly not a bad way to bow out.