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ADVANCE: Irrational Man - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
ADVANCE: Irrational Man
Directing: B+
Acting: B+
Writing: B+
Cinematography: B
Editing: B+

Here we are at Woody Allen's 45th theatrically released feature lenght film in fifty years, and so far at least, reviews are fairly mixed. When you're this prolific, you can't win them all, and it's easy for many to dismiss Irrational Man as pretentious and clichéd. It is about a college student who falls in love with her professor, after all.

But the beauty of this movie is how easy it is to rationalize its brilliance, or at least subtly self-referential cleverness. While I do think perhaps "brilliance" is a strong word, I still fall into this camp. It's not just a matter of being impressed by a man who can still make movies this good after making so many others. Woody Allen's "masterpiece" days are clearly long gone, but it's also been a while since he gave us any of his admittedly several total duds. Here we have a pholodosophy professor declaring that most philosophy is "just verbal masturbation," thereby telling us that is precisely what this movie is knowingly engaged in.

And there is much to philosophize about here, and in turn argue about. I was posed with a comparison between this film and Oleana, which which the first half a student appears powerless and in the second half seems to gain power by accusing a professor of raping her in the first half. The comparison is vague but apt: the professor here, Abe (Joaquin Phoenix), resists every advance on the part of his pupil, Jill (Emma Stone), until he succumbs to the idea she plants in his head of the perfect murder. Where to lay the blame and the fault is not necessarily with the same person, and provides much to argue about.

Of course, that is, if you let it. If you want to take in Irrational Man on surface levels only, much of it comes across as preposterous, and is a key reason the film is objectively imperfect. But Woody Allen would not make one of his main characters a philosophy professor, who, in Jill's words, "clouds the issue with words," if he didn't want us to be thinking about these tings at deeper levels. Then again, maybe it's just complicated enough to make otherwise simple people pat themselves on the back for "getting" and "intellectual" movie. You decide. But it's fun, or perhaps irredeemably frustrating, processing that choice.

We could even argue who is the protagonist and who is the antagonis, Jill or Abe. There are compelling arguments for both. Certainly this isn't the first movie to present such a choice, but it's a new twist ona very Woody Allen trope of an older man falling for a younger woman with complicated results. And this time, we also get Parker Posey, perfectly cast as Abe's much more age-appropriate colleague with her own crush on him. Refreshingly, this never devolves into any kind of romantic rivalry between the two women; in fact, they help each other (and not to get revenge, either).

This movie goes mostly where you don't expect it to -- starting with Jill and Abe overhearing a neighboring coversation at a restaurant, from which they learn about an apparently terrible judge who spitefully ruining a young mother's life. This is how the heretofore dreadfully depressed, alcoholic Abe suddenly takes a turn: his life is renewed with meaning when it occurs to him that he could off this scumbag judge himself and get away with it since no one involved knows him. Of course, Abe also tell his students earlier in class that life only has meaning you choose to give it, so, there's that.

There will be those of us who insist all people take responsibility for their own actions and feelings, and those who insist none of the increasingly tragic events that unfold hereafter would have occurred without Jill's influence. Or perhaps some will just watch Abe reference mystery-genre conventions while following them, and merely take in the latest fun story Woody Allen is telling. If nothing else, you won't find another movie featuring a cup filled with so much fresh squeeze orange juice, poison, and tension.

Emma Stone and Joaquin Phoenix play with genre convention in IRRATIONAL MAN.</a>

Overall: B+
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