Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone have some life lessons to learn as they cross paths at college, with an unlikely murder plan leading to some comic irrationality

SWALLOWS are fluttering across the sea on their long migration as an amber hue creeps along the peripheries of the leaves.
Just as in the natural world there are certain signs to show that we have completed another revolution of the sun, so too there are signs in the world of cinema.
Another year means another Woody Allen film – in this case, Irrational Man – and even if you are not a fan of Allen’s work, you have to admire the poultry-like regularity with which he produces films.
And while the news of another Woody Allen release is unlikely to rouse much audience attention (Allen himself has stated in interviews that he has no inclination to make great films, saying that he would rather go home and have dinner than spend time working late into the night), it would be a mistake to gloss over his latest offering.

Granted, there is a strong shadow of familiarity overhanging the  film. Emma Stone is back from last year’s Allen offering – this time, playing Jill, the philosophy undergraduate who is on the fence between maintaining a vanilla relationship with parent-approved fellow student Roy (Jamie Blackley), or ditching
that in pursuit of a spectacular but inevitably ill fated love affair with her self-destructive lecturer, Abe (Joaquin Phoenix).
A new and exotic addition to the philosophy department, existentialist Abe is an intellectual peacock who is on the hill, but not quite over it.
Abe’s reputation for controversial opinions, heavy drinking and illicit student affairs act as an attractive tail feather for Jill, and also for his more age-appropriate love interest, Rita (Parker Posey).
Set mainly amid the leaf y, collegiate surrounds , you m i g h t expect this to be another plodding drama from Allen that wryly ponders relationship dilemmas. And you’d be right – but it has a bit more to offer.
An act of chance eavesdropping by Abe brings the theoretical moral quandaries that he has mastered dissecting in the classroom into a real flesh and blood scenario, as he focuses his intellectual prowess
on how to commit the perfect murder.
Had Irrational Man been made 30-odd years ago, no doubt we would have seen Woody Allen step into the lead role – romantic, misanthropic, and hopelessly self-absorbed, Abe is the kind of character that Allen would have had a lot of fun with, but so much of what the film has going for it rests on Joaquin
Phoenix’s acting.
Building on the wonderful mumbling and bumbling performance he gave in Inherent Vice, Abe comes across as simultaneously reprehensible and endearing. Parker Posey brings a lot to the story with Rita, the settled chemistry lecturer who throws herself at Abe in an attempt to escape the mundanity of her marriage.
All the while, we are never sure just how far Emma Stone’s Jill will go to in pursuit of her wide-eyed fantasy. If you’re looking for riveting twists and turns, then look elsewhere – there are no real surprises
once the plot gets going.
Comically contrasting narratives from the three main characters gives us a privileged view of the whole affair, so the fun lies in watching Allen cram the pot full of interesting ingredients, turn up the heat, and
wait for the unavoidable mess to be made. And what a mess!
What results is the usual Woody Allen fare – every bit as meandering, wordy, and glib as you might expect.

But there’s an undeniably captivating and fun performance by Phoenix, and a delightfully macabre undertone that makes the whole thing reminiscent of Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected.
At 79, Allen may be getting long in the tooth, but here is the proof he can still bite.

Verdict: 7/10