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Small Portions  

Murder and morality in Irrational Man


Remember the joke Woody Allen tells in Annie Hall about the two old women in the Catskills? The gist is this: One woman complains that the food is terrible, the other replies, "I know, such small portions."

Allen's films in this later part of his career are so innocuous, so wisplike, so slight, that while they're not exactly terrible, they do make you feel like a Catskills grandma, given a stingy portion of something that's not very good to begin with. Irrational Man is Allen's latest, and it's a lazy, mostly bad film with a handful of interesting ideas—but not enough to leave your brain feeling anything but undernourished.

Joaquin Phoenix plays a philosophy professor at a prestigious New England university, which allows Irrational Man to take place in Allen's well-trod fantasy-porn milieu of liberal WASP/Jewish wealth—it might as well be the Upper East Side. Because Phoenix is a dark and mysterious man who drinks scotch from a flask, Emma Stone's wide-eyed coed desperately wants to bang him. (The less said about Allen's other well-trod fantasy-porn milieu, the better, I think.) In a staggering twist, Phoenix doesn't bang Stone right away—he's too depressed, or something. So they remain friends; she has a milquetoast boyfriend, anyway, and a set of disinterested parents who don't seem concerned she's hanging out with her drunken, much older professor.

When one of the main characters murders an ostensibly deserving victim, Allen examines morality in terms of the philosophers that make up Phoenix's curriculum—Kant, Kierkegaard, and the like. But again, it's a small portion. Rather than truly examining the ethical intricacies of homicide, the movie plays like a short story written by a vaguely talented college freshman who's taking a Philosophy 101 course. Allen just hasn't put enough on the plate.

Director Woody Allen

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