The latest Woody Allen has just hit the big screen here to somewhat mixed reviews: the usually rather snotty Télérama has given it a fairly good write-up, but Rotten Tomatoes’ critics only give it a wishy-washy 42% on the Tomatometer. Meanwhile, its audience is only slightly more lukewarm, upping the score to a still patchy 53%. So it was with fairly low expectations that we trotted off to see it yesterday evening – and, well, I LOVED it.
Admittedly, am far from being the film buff connoisseur and can manage to wring a tear out of even the mildest of sit coms (“The Intern” being a good example, where the very good Robert De Niro and the always completely winning Anne Hathaway wrestle with a pretty tame script and a really unrealistic ending, while throwing some extremely enjoyable moments at us in between), or be bowled over even when the plot thickens but doesn’t always follow the book (more on the revisited “Far From the Madding Crowd” and the ever glorious Matthias Schoenaerts anon) – so in short am generally a very good audience, and tend to score with optimism over cynicism any time.
It’s been hard to get excited about the recent batch of W.A. films, which seem to have followed each other in quick succession. Felt suitably underwhelmed by “Magic in the Moonlight” (despite, or perhaps in part because of Colin’s twirly moustache), distinctly disliked the forgettable daft operatic one set in Rome, and was hard pressed to feel very much enthusiasm for the horrible personages who strolled in different time zones around “Midnight in Paris”, despite getting all excited about all the magical places that appeared so beautifully on the screen.
Did love everything about “Blue Jasmine”, but even that had been scuppered by us dashing all excited to the UGC Bercy here in order to see the man himself introduce the film “en avant-première”, only to have him apparently tire after talking to two out of three audiences in the huge cinema and depart out of the back door without making it to our particular theatre. The only saving grace that night was having Roman Polanski and Emmanuelle Seigneur in the audience in front of us (assume the two facts are not related?).
But I digress.
Joaquin Phoenix, always fascinating and often given to portraying tormented souls, is perfectly cast as the college professor with the great reputation and the very unattractive gut (which we get to see a lot of and which am sure took quite a bit of work on J.P.’s part), who has lost the lead in his pencil in every sense of the word and who arrives at a small East Coast college to teach philosophy.
His ennui is reaching monumental proportions that cannot be dispelled by either the more mature chemistry prof, played enchantingly by the actress with the best name in the world, Parker Posey, or the young and talented Jill (Emma Stone), who is ready to drop the perfect but stultifying boyfriend in her quest for something she has read about in her philosophy books. Then something almost pedestrian happens, and the film makes an abrupt about turn.
Written and directed by Woody himself, you couldn’t really be watching a film by anyone else. You can almost hear him chortling as he unashamedly gets back on the “Crime and Punishment” wagon, and I did think about Patricia Highsmith and her Mr Ripley character part way through too, but whether that is just coincidence will of course never know. Did also get a bit of shudder back to those days of superficially studying Kant and Sartre (loved the reference to “Hell is other people”), and at some point a comment is made about the French post-war existentialists that had the whole audience around me chuckling darkly in their seats.
I’m sure you could go either way with this, and have just read three disappointed reviews from The Guardian, but have to say that – quite out of left wing – I enjoyed the whole show. Thought Emma S. also played an extremely good part. Am quite a big fan of hers generally, but was a bit bothered by the histrionics in “Birdman”, so was enjoyable to see her play the preppy part that built into more of a crescendo, and she does a very good line in classy pullovers and those little dresses.
And I especially liked the ending. Will be intrigued to hear the general vote and see if anyone else was likewise pleasantly surprised, irrationally or no…
An Irrational Man – 9/10