(M) Directed by Woody Allen
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone

by Ben McEachen

Philosophy professor Abe Lucas (Phoenix) has no passion for life, until he finds an unorthodox purpose.

If you're a Woody Allen fan, go see his 46th directorial work. If you're not, seriously consider getting over your Allen-itis. Because for all the garden-variety Allen elements within delicious dramedy Irrational Man, it's also strikingly un-Allen.

From the opening titles which aren't scored by jazz, the prolific 80-year-old's latest busts some new moves. While there are minor changes such as not making a joke when Christianity is mentioned, the bigger shifts are anchored in messed-up protagonist Abe Lucas and his “enlightenment”.

Writer-director Allen has been a creative magpie throughout his career, homaging literary and movie masters. Wind is taken from sails if we breathe what Irrational Man's muse is, because ethical sting increases when you're as surprised as Abe at what gives him a reason to live. Okay, here's a hint: it's not from the relational or intellectual posturing Allen has spent years proclaiming. Wow. Gasp.

Instead, with Phoenix effortlessly being an enjoyably dishevelled cypher for Allen's somewhat attack upon himself, Irrational Man interrogates the difference between talk and action. Or, more to the point, can such a difference exist? Releasing one movie per year, Allen keeps treating adults to adult films, indirectly challenging viewers to consider their own position on moral certainty. Bravo.

Also, thumbs up for Parker Posey finally turning up in an Allen movie. About time. The wanton pragmatism she brings helps compensate for the biggest misstep - allowing Emma Stone's doe-eyed student Jill to be more naïve than she reasonably should be. Given how pivotal Jill is to Abe's odyssey, Allen's done her a disservice through screwball condescension (just like the narration can do to viewers).

Such issues don't undo how Allen's nihilistic, erudite and philosophical espousing has found a new lease of life itself.

Enjoyable revamp of Allen's preoccupations, energised by unexpected perspectives and a solid core of moral provocation.

This review was originally published in Empire magazine, September 2015 edition. For more Empire, click here.