Woody Allen Tries Once Again to Normalize Old Guy-Young Girl Relations in Irrational Man

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Woody Allen's Irrational Man opens Friday at the Cedar Lee and the Capitol, and you're of course more than welcome to go see it. 

Joaquin Phoenix is Allen's stand-in. He's Abe Lucas, a miserable philosophy professor who seeks a cure for his existential malaise. He finds a cure not in single malt Scotch, but in the companionship of a bright student who's infatuated with him (Emma Stone, Allen's current muse) and the execution of what he deems an altruistic crime. 

Like in most Allen productions, a chatty ensemble banters among themselves about relationships and ethics as they stroll the university's walkways and attend film festivals and stuff.  And despite some early voice over that sounds like it was written by the sort of 18-year-old philosophy student no one can stand, there are indeed moments of reasonably entertaining exchange.

Parker Posey hits one out of the park as a science prof. who lusts after Lucas with a brazen fervor, and the satire of campus romance in general and philosophy departments in particular is solid, if not particularly fresh or indicative of expertise.  

Finally, I know that I shouldn't be bothered by or keep bemoaning the age difference between romantic leads — it's par for the course in Hollywood. And Stone and Phoenix's 16-year gap is certainly a far cry from the 28-year chasm separating Stone and Colin Firth in last year's unmemorable Woody Allen period piece Magic in the Moonlight. And it's true that the student-professor relationship is often sexually fraught and worth exploring. But in Allen's hands, one can't shake the uneasy suspicion that his whole project is, and has been, trying to normalize these borderline-criminal relationships. 

Criminal enterprise is all over Allen's ouevre, and he's constantly (and often successfully) seeking the humor in humanity's crimes and misdemeanors. See what I did there? In this instance, though, a less jokey script and a tonal shift  — maybe take it easy on the jaunty jazz accompaniments? — may have made for one hell of a thriller.

As it stands, Irrational Man is a rom-com with as much of an existential crisis as its protagonist. 


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