A drama with a couple of laughs rather than a comedy, and more a philosophical discussion than a drama, Irrational Man is a very contained, very minor particle of Woody Allen’s huge cinematic universe, and it could’ve been a disaster were it not for the extremely committed performances of its three leads: Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone and Parker Posey.
Unlike most of Allen’s films, which feature large, intersecting ensembles, the action of Irrational Man is almost entirely comprised of interchanges between these three, and mostly between Phoenix and Stone’s characters. Phoenix plays a near-alcoholic, depressed phillosophy professor who has just joined the faculty of a gorgeous, small college in Newport, Rhode Island; Stone plays one of his students. She and Posey both fall for him, but he might need more than either of them to rise above his existential malaise.
In films such as Love and Death and Sleeper, Allen’s dialogue sounded like written words, because his scenes were constructed, literally, as jokes. But here, the literalness of the writing sounds didactic and contrived – yet somehow, through commitment, talent, and a bit of magic, Phoenix, Stone, and Posey pull it off; just barely. Irrational Man is a minor work in a minor key, with just enough charm to make it a passable expenditure of your time.