Woody Allen’s latest morality play plagued by contrived plots and typical sexism
Once I finished rolling my eyes, ranted to a fellow moviegoer, downed a beer, and had a good night’s sleep, I reflected on Woody Allen’s latest creation. My initial verdict remains: the film is bad. Irrational Man, though a promising title, delivered 90 minutes of plot which could have been reduced to a short film that I still wouldn’t want to watch. Between its uncomfortable script and questionable portrayal of women, Irrational Man was another addition to Allen’s growing filmography marked by reused tropes and rushed production.
The film marks the second of Allen’s that feature Emma Stone in a leading role, and this is no improvement from 2014’s Magic in the Moonlight. Stone once again portrays a one-dimensional young woman who is the love object of a much older man. In fact, her character is so flat and underdeveloped that I left the theatre not remembering her character’s name because it was only uttered it a handful of times. Meanwhile, the male lead (Abe Lucas, the titular ‘irrational man’) was repetitively mentioned throughout the film.
Stone’s character, Jill, seemed to be written for the express purpose of fleshing out Abe’s details, rather than to act as a character on her own. She was the object of a “college professor falls in love with a student” trope, nothing more. Beyond being infatuated with her professor, the film revealed little about her. The long and short of it is that Allen doesn’t care about women, or if he does, his films certainly do not suggest this.
In addition to Allen’s disappointing yet familiar mistreatment of his female characters, Irrational Man is another Allen film that addresses mental illness with distasteful language and general ignorance. From the very first scene, the film dismisses Abe’s alcoholism and lumps it into his archetype of “washed up college professor” instead of seriously considering the pressing realities and struggles of a character dealing with such an illness. At one point in the film, his character even acknowledges that he is medicated for anxiety attacks, but this line is later brushed off as a joke.
Even if one puts all of Allen’s offensive portrayals of women and mental illness aside, the film just doesn’t measure up to the usual film society lineup. The writing is lazy and the plot leaves a lot to be desired. The bare-bones concept of a morality play is intriguing, but Allen’s execution is poor in every aspect. Plot-dependent character traits felt lazily thrown in at the last minute, and the climax came together by chance rather than actually commenting on any of Abe’s shortcomings as a literal murderer.
Much to my delight, my gut feelings about this film are supported by everyone’s go-to critic, Rotten Tomatoes, which gave Irrational Man a whopping 42% (that’s rotten, by the way). It was an irritating cinematic experience from the gratuitous title credits to the repetitive uppity jazz score, and merely solidified what opinions I’ve formed from Allen’s past four years of his extensive filmography. Despite the film’s attempt to ask some big moral questions, the only query I was left pondering as the end credits rolled was: “how is this man still churning out commercially successful films?”