CONTAINS, UM, SPOILERS
What's the defining Woody Allen text? One of the "early, funny ones" like Annie Hall or Love And Death? One of the mid-period ones that the Academy liked so much: Crimes And Misdemeanours, Hannah And Her Sisters? One from the recent renaissance, such as Midnight In Paris or Blue Jasmine? Frankly it could be any one of a dozen: most Allen films have a lot to commend them, even something like Interiors or Magic In The Moonlight. (I think we can all agree that Cassandra's Dream and You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger aren't making the shortlist.) However I'd like to suggest Melinda And Melinda, not because it's any good - it's okay but surely no-one's idea of much more than that - but because it does perfectly illustrate the difference between a Woody Allen comedy and a Woody Allen drama by having them both in the same movie: the same setup used as a springboard for two different stories told seriously and comedically. It's a nice way of working out exactly which Woody Allen you prefer.
Sadly (for me, anyway), Irrational Man sees Allen in glum drama mode: no jokes, but the time-honoured Allen trope of middle-aged man going at it like hammers with a much younger woman. No laughs, but a lot of babbling about Kierkegaard and deep philosophical musings about the meaning of existence and the possibility of moral choice in a perfect world, which just confirms the idea that philosophers should be given a slap and told to get a proper job. Joaquin Phoenix is Abe Lucas, a struggling author and impotent alcoholic who turns up as the new philosophy professor at an expensive college. Emma Stone is Jill, one of his students, who immediately becomes obsessed with the man to the point of turning into a crashing bore, forever banging on about what Abe Lucas said, what Abe Lucas did, what Abe Lucas wrote, what Abe Lucas had for dinner, what Abe Lucas sat down on.
Mysteriously, the two of them begin a sexual relationship, which is not just ridiculous (she has a perfectly nice boyfriend already) but a sackable offence at the very least. She won't shut up about him, he won't shut up about morality and existentialism and Dostoyevsky and Kierkegaard. Nobody cares. Then by chance they overhear a conversation in a diner which instigates a perfect murder plot (and also allows Abe to put his theories about morality and crime and whatever into practice). Except that this perfect plan starts to unravel....
Halfway through Irrational Man, Abe plays Russian Roulette with a loaded gun, to demonstrate the odds on life and death (or something). Frankly, I'd have liked the gun to go off. It's not as if all Woody Allen movies need a steady supply of jokes: they weren't necessary in Blue Jasmine, for example. But I really needed some levity here. On the plus side, Darius Khondji's photography is lovely, giving the film a gorgeous 70s look to proceedings. But that's small consolation. Usually I'm all for Woody Allen as a purveyor an evening's civilised, intelligent entertainment, but this is definitely one of his less interesting ones and ranks well in the bottom third of the Woodyometer.