You’d think that, having turned eighty, Woody Allen might have finally gotten over himself. That is not the case, however, if this typically egocentric movie is anything to go by. As usual, the protagonist, Abe (Joaquin Phoenix), a drink-addled college lecturer, is irresistible to a much younger woman, his student Jill (Emma Stone). Both characters discuss many of the story’s plot points as well as their own motivations through voice-overs, which, for such a skilled and experienced director, seems a slovenly device when so heavily relied upon. It also feels more than just a bit icky hearing Jill constantly tell us (and her boyfriend) how fascinating she finds Abe – it’s like Allen writing a love-letter to himself.
Abe’s problem is that he can no longer ‘get it up’ for the women who throw themselves at him. He goes through the existential wringer in coping with it, but unexpectedly rediscovers his mojo through the planning of a perfect and, to him, justifiable murder. Allen is not the first to look at the link between sex and death, but if you’ve not read Kierkegaard, Kant and other such philosophers (I haven’t), you might find the first half of the movie dour, lifeless and glib. It’s only after the major turning point things get interesting, as Abe is confronted by a moral dilemma that he had not foreseen.
Allen’s style has generally tended towards the stagey, with a sometimes stifling wordiness and it is only in the latter stages of this that there is anything at stake that you might get your teeth into. The longer it goes, the closer it resembles his genuinely cold and unsettling Match Point (2005), even down to ascribing fate’s fickleness to a small inanimate object – here a torch, there a ring. If there is a difference between the two films – and this is in no way comic, either – it might be that he has decided to not sit on the fence when it comes to meting out justice.
It’s not vintage Allen, but there’s enough to keep you engaged.