DRAMA; 1hr 35min
STARRING: Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, Parker Posey
Conscious coupling: Stone and Phoenix
Who better to play a disillusioned philosophy professor than a casually gone-to-seed Phoenix in Woody Allen’s latest moral quandary? Dipping into his omnipresent booze flask and airily dismissing elevated thought as “verbal masturbation,” Phoenix’s Abe Lucas is washing up on a low ebb when he starts work at Rhode Island’s (fictional) Braylin College (gorgeously shot by painterly cinematographer Darius Khondji). Abe is depressed, with a what’s-the-point attitude that doesn’t deter prowling, married professor, Rita Richards (Posey), and precocious student, Jill Pollard (Stone), from falling for his rumpled smarts. Their hot pursuit initially leaves Abe lukewarm. But he’s freed from his roiling negativity with a reverberating bang when, after eavesdropping with Jill on a telling conversation in a diner, he commits a drastic act of deliverance.
The reassuring Allen trademarks are all lined up: his distinctively syncopated dialogue, his questioning intelligence, his fascination with behavioural mysteries, the ease he summons from his A-list actors and, especially, his conviction of the universe’s callous disregard. Notably missing in action, however, is the gripping impetus of Match Point or Crimes and Misdemeanours. It’s as burnished as fine art, but this talky culpability debate is one for the A-team.