Despite Writer/Director Woody Allen’s personal problems, he is arguably the best and most prodigious Screenwriter/Director of my generation, having written a screenplay nearly every year since the 70’s, and excelling in both comedies and serious films, such as Match Point and Blue Jasmine. As is to be expected from someone who has made so many films, he doesn’t break any new ground here, but he explores familiar themes, such as morality, the meaning of life, infidelity, and depression. This movie is one of his more serous efforts. (I am a huge Woody Allen fan, so this review may have a positive bias.) The film has received mixed reviews, but I found it entertaining, thought-provoking, and extremely well-acted. This is one of Woody’s finest directorial efforts, and Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, and Parker Posey all give AAW performances.
Abe (Phoenix) is a famous philosophy professor who arrives at a college to teach in the summer. He is very depressed, bordering on suicidal. His wife has left him and his best friend was killed when he stepped on a land mine in Iraq. He has writer’s block and his intellectual impotence has metastasized to the bedroom, where he previously had few peers. His life has no purpose or meaning anymore. Abe meets a married professor, Rita (Parker Posey), who is fascinated by him. She seduces him, but he can’t function.
Abe teaches a basic philosophy class where he quotes snippets and superficially elaborates on the positions of some famous philosophers. (If you are looking for an in-depth analysis, read their books, since his teaching is a minor part of the film.) Jill, a very smart, upbeat, pretty student taking his class finds him brilliant and fascinating. She decides to try to cheer him up and they become friends. Although Jill loves her boyfriend, she soon desires to have a love affair with Abe. He refuses her offer, but there are probably less than five heterosexual men on this planet that have the willpower to keep saying no to a woman like Jill.
How will the relationship between Jill and Abe blossom? Will Abe find a way to bring meaning and purpose to his life once more? You’ll have to watch to find out!
I can’t reveal any more of the plot, but the film consistently held my interest and I have continued to reflect on it. There is an occasional joke, but don’t plan on laughing much. It’s almost a must-see for Woody Allen fans. If you don’t like Allen, I’d skip it. If you are an alien who recently arrived on the planet and have yet to see a Woody Allen film, it’s worth a look to learn about the human condition.