It would be impossible for someone who produces a new movie annually to keep making good ones, but Woody Allen had settled into a solid good/bad alternating pattern in the last few years. In 2011, “Midnight In Paris” worked. In 2012, “To Rome With Love” didn’t. In 2013, he created “Blue Jasmine,” one of his best in a very long time, for which Cate Blanchett won an Oscar. But in 2014, he was back on the down side with “Magic In The Moonlight.” So I figured Woody’s pendulum would swing back to quality this year.
Wrong. “An Irrational Man” is the second-worst movie of 2015, right behind “Hot Tub Time Machine 2.”
Once again, the story revolves around an older man and younger woman, played by Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone. Stone, a college student, falls for Phoenix, the new philosophy professor on campus. One day at lunch, they overhear a woman lamenting the trouble she’s having in court with a judge who won’t let her have custody of her kids. Phoenix and Stone discuss how much better the woman’s life would be if the evil judge was dead. After they part ways, Phoenix continues to obsess over that notion, until he decides to follow through and kills the judge with poisoned orange juice.
Now that he’s carried out the murder, he simply goes on with his life, but once the story makes the newspaper, Stone and Parker Posey (as another professor) begin to suspect that Phoenix had something to do with it. It’s typical of Allen that, in 2015, the only way people get their news is from the newspaper. No one in his movie world ever has an iPhone, an iPad, or any kind of computer. There’s no email, no Twitter, no Facebook. In fact, I don’t think there’s even a television in this movie because, of course, no one on a college campus would ever watch TV or use the internet.
I feel like I should say something good about “An Irrational Man,” so here it is: Joaquin Phoenix is more believable as a philosophy professor than Mark Wahlberg was earlier this year as an English professor in “The Gambler,” which will also be on my Worst Of 2015 list. Still, Phoenix’s performance is lackluster and his onscreen chemistry with Stone is non-existent. They (and Posey) are solid actors, so I have to blame their misfires on Allen as the director. Even the soundtrack is boring — he uses the same Ramsey Lewis Trio song over and over again, to the point where I never want to hear it again for the rest of my life.
Worst of all, Allen’s script is lazy and badly plotted. And he knows it. In an interview with NPR, Allen said:
I’m lazy and an imperfectionist. Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese will work on the details until midnight and sweat it out, whereas for me, come 6 o’clock, I want to go home, I want to have dinner, I want to watch the ballgame. Filmmaking is not [the] end-all be-all of my existence.
It’s not that Allen is incapable of creating clever criminal mischief when he puts his mind to it. I just showed my daughter “Manhattan Murder Mystery,” which holds up nicely, as does “Crimes and Misdemeanors.” But “An Irrational Man” just sits there for 90 minutes.
Because it’s online, this review will never enter Woody The Luddite’s universe. I wish I could say the same for his movie in mine.