Mix­esWoody Allen’s usual light and dark tones

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE -

and se­duc­tion— come to­gether in his 45th fea­ture, Ir­ra­tional Man, which may not be his very best re­cent work, but is by far not his worst, ei­ther.

As in so many Allen films, even if some parts don’t gel, oth­ers do. If Ir­ra­tional Man falls short of late-ca­reer home runs like Mid­night in Paris and Blue Jas­mine, it also feels more fully re­al­ized than last year’s vis­ually gor­geous but oth­er­wise un­even pe­riod piece, Magic in theMoon­light.

As al­ways, the cast­ing is some­thing any di­rec­tor would kill for. Here, we have Joaquin Phoenix as an ex­is­ten­tially chal­lenged phi­los­o­phy pro­fes­sor, EmmaS­tone as his brighteyed stu­dent and Parker Posey as the sex-starved aca­demic who forms the third this odd tri­an­gle.

The set­ting is New­port, Rhode Is­land, and that windswept, seasidetown­looks beau­ti­ful — no sur­prise, given the pedi­gree of cin­e­matog­ra­pher Dar­ius Khondji. It’s sum­mer ses­sion at a small col­lege, and Abe Lu­cas (Phoenix) ar­rives to teach phi­los­o­phy. Ac­com­plished and bril­liant, he’s also known for hav­ing af­fairs with stu­dents and swig­ging of­ten from a flask in his pocket. “That should­put­someVi­a­grain­tothe phi­los­o­phy depart­ment,” an ob­server says of his ar­rival.

Abe is pre­cisely the sort of dis­grun­tled, unattain­able in­tel­lec­tual that young­women can’t stay away from. That’s what hap­pens to Jill (Stone),

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of who’s beau­ti­ful, bril­liant, kind and also an ac­com­plished pi­anist. Bored with her clean­cut boyfriend, she finds her­self drawn to her bad-boy pro­fes­sor, who’s “so darned in­ter­est­ing and dif­fer­ent”.

Mean­while, frus­trated wife Rita (Posey) has been dream­ing of bed­ding Abe since his ar­rival, and will not be de­nied. Yet Abe’s long stretch of de­pres­sion has left him with some is­sues in the sack.

What’s more, he’s ex­hibit­ing dis­turb­ing ni­hilis­tic ten­den­cies. At a party, he gets hold of the fam­ily gun and plays a game of real Rus­sian Roulette, hop­ing to teach some sort of meta­phys­i­cal les­son.

Ev­ery­thing changes, though, when Abe and Jill over­hear a con­ver­sa­tion in a diner. A be­lea­guered mother is fac­ing a court case that may cost her cus­tody of her chil­dren; the judge is cor­rupt. If the bad judge were out of the pic­ture, Abe rea­sons, wouldn’t the world be so much bet­ter? He im­me­di­ately be­gins plot­ting a so­lu­tion, and this dark quest fill­shimwith anewzest for life.

Yes, it’s a leap — but Allen’s films are fa­mous for such leaps. You ei­ther go with it or you don’t.

The same goes for Allen’s breezy mix of light and dark tones. The sub­ject may seem too dark for com­edy, the treat­ment too light for tragedy. But the di­rec­tor bal­ances it in his own way, and as al­ways, we can take it or leave it.

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