Woody Allen’s world is one of habitually rainy days and east coast prep. His latest film, Irrational Man, plays into this world as Allen’s well-established aesthetic pervades every scene of the film.
If nothing else, audiences can rely on the knowledge that a Woody Allen project will always be gorgeous to look at. Newport, RI, the idyllic beach town that provides the setting for this film does not disappoint. The tantalizing fantasy of strolls along the Atlantic and late nights at small-town diners is enough to make wanderlust hearts ache.
Centering around a college campus, we see a handsome but troubled philosophy professor, Abe Lucas (Joaquin Pheonix), arriving to find his wild reputation has preceded him. We watch as he struggles to accept his new position and deal with his own emptiness and the meaninglessness of his life. He soon meets Jill (Emma Stone), one of his students, with whom he develops an unlikely friendship.
Abe’s profound emotional darkness is eventually lifted by a sudden sense of purpose. While sitting in a café, he and Jill overhear a woman discussing the unfair results of her custody battle due to an impartial judge. The film’s conflict comes from Abe’s resolution to murder the judge, hoping that this random act of kindness will somehow rectify his wrongs and give reason for his existence.
Allen’s films often use clothing as a thematic semaphore. This is most prominent in the wardrobe of Jill. With wisdom beyond her years, we must constantly be reminded of her true colligate status by her penchant for sweater-sets and cargo shorts.
Even when pursuing an illicit affair with an older man, she maintains her sense of naivety through dress. The first time she kisses Abe, wearing a flouncy skirt and boxy top, she keeps her hand over her stomach the whole time, fully covering her slight hint of exposed stomach. Unsurprisingly, when she finally learns the true cause of the judge’s death, she is adamant that Abe turn himself in because it’s the moral thing to do.
Jill’s boyfriend, Roy (Jamie Blackley), is exactly what you would expect for the partner of her calculated character. Even when he’s furious he looks like he’s fallen straight out of a Vineyard Vines catalog. His carefully put together outfits demonstrate the organization and advanced planning that he applies to every area of his life.
Abe, on the other hand, thrills Jill by pure contrast. He is unlike anyone else in her comfortable, but predictable life. His disheveled appearance, another meaningless distraction for him, is an afterthought. He is more concerned with philosophical prose and his manic theories. Despite Jill’s determination that they should be together, it’s eminently clear that this juxtaposition could never work out.
Emma Stone brings her characteristic confident informality and youthful energy to the role. The charming effect of her lanky limbs thrown into a cable knit sweater or under tweed bucket hat nail the east coast prep style that so many strive to master. I’ll be using this movie as a blueprint for how I plan to dress next week on Martha’s Vineyard…