Paranoia, the ‘struggling artist’, adultery, death and the thought of committing the perfect crime are all commonplace within the creative ground that writer and director Woody Allen has explored throughout his extensive filmography. Keeping up his remarkable one-film-per-year tally, his latest project ‘Irrational Man’ revisits past themes through philosophy professor protagonist Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix) who experiences an existential crisis. With rumours of his questionable lifestyle circulating round the college campus and a hip flask of ‘vintage’ malt in his back pocket, he befriends his straight A student Jill (Emma Stone) who is in awe of his knowledge and intelligence, much to the dismay of her boyfriend Roy (Jamie Blackley). When eavesdropping on a conversation in a diner, Abe sees an opportunity to give his life a sense of meaning, but at what costs?
The mystery plot is Hitchcockian in its absurdity, and Abe Lucas is used as the ideal vehicle to drop philosophical quotes from Kant and Dostoyevsky into the script, as well as delivering Allenisms such as ‘I couldn’t remember the reason for living, and when I did it wasn’t convincing’. It is gluttonous, self-indulgent filmmaking from the director who refuses to change his style, and Khondji’s neat cinematography is accompanied by a typically jazz-infused soundtrack that frequently repeats. No matter how familiar it may feel, it is comical, clever and wickedly dark. Phoenix plays the lead unlike the past few central characters in Woody’s films in that he is not a copycat version of his creator. His performance is enjoyable and works well with Allen’s most recent muse Emma Stone, who is a natural at handling his delectable dialogue. Rising British actor Jamie Blackley also impresses and is one to watch out for, but his role here is a little underused.
‘Irrational Man’ is the most fun I’ve had with a Woody Allen film since the turn of the decade, and though he is guilty of trudging through his usual narrative motions, he is doing so very entertainingly with flair and his trademark wit. Phoenix and Stone are a joy to watch as they revel in the brilliantly farcical material, both well suited to his ad lib approach. A key scene unfolds at an amusement park when characters wander into a house of mirrors, a method often implemented in cinema to convey a sense of trickery or bemusement, and previously by Allen himself. While the tricks up his sleeve, on which he wears his many influences, are tried and tested, sometimes the old ones are the best.
Director Justin Edgar gets nostalgic with this coming of age tale of three teenage misfits in 1980s Britain. Inspired by the London riots, ‘We Are The Freaks’ captures a sense of rebellion at the end of the Thatcher era. Jack (Jamie Blackley) has a dead end bank job but awaits news on a grant to fund a writing degree. Parsons (Mike Bailey) is a lost soul, seeking an escape from his overbearing Conservative household. Chunks (Sean Teale) is the wild one, a burden on society living off the wealth of his divorced parents. With clever quirks and camera trickery from the outset, this aims to be the antidote to the tired teen comedy flick but by wearing so many influences on its sleeve, does it really achieve this?
In the opening scenes, Jack assumes the narrator role talking directly into the camera, introducing himself and his friends. He breaks down the fourth wall in Ferris Bueller fashion, whilst simultaneously poking fun at it, offering a refreshing start. The extradiegetic fun continues brilliantly for about thirty minutes then sadly fades away only to be replaced with a conventional plot, coming close to identical to that of Greg Mottola’s Superbad. The three protagonists share similar attributes to their modern American counterparts and Michael Smiley is brought in as the hilarious Killer Colin – the irresponsible adult equivalent to the policemen who befriend McLovin, the geek position this time around filled by Parsons. Of course, each of the trio want to ‘get the girl’ leading them to a house party. Their paths then separate for much of the middle section giving each a chance to find themselves, only to regroup for a parodist reflection finale. Despite not being as original as it thinks it is, it is still highly entertaining and the performances provide charisma and energy throughout.
Blackley is excellent in the central role, and has believable chemistry with Skins lads Mike Bailey and Sean Teale. The script is fluid, boasting a lot of well timed wit, helping to create a natural dynamic friendship between the three. The young supporting cast is strong, particularly from the desirable musician Elinor with a passion for rave, played by Amber Anderson and outcast Splodger who delivers a foray of fantastic jokes late on. Smiley puts in an expert turn as the aforementioned Killer Colin, a local drug dealer who lives in a caravan and seems to consume most of his stash rather than sell it on.
The opening third is definitely something to behold, Edgar expressing exciting creativity, but as the spectatorship techniques peter out, the film unfortunately loses its edge. The self awareness does rear its head again for an intelligent closing sequence but overall there is slightly too much imitation and not quite enough innovation so although it doesn’t maximise on the potential promised by a truly great beginning, ‘We Are The Freaks’ is very enjoyable and the cinematography is inspirational, providing a wacky interpretation of youth culture of that time.