Is it that time of the year already when Woody Allen releases a new movie? My how the time flies. Based on the trailer and the title I was under the false impression that this was going to be a typical Allen drama/comedy about an intellectual professor having an existential mid-life crisis about his yuppie lifestyle amidst trying to navigate through the complex jungle of his multiple love affairs, accompanied by the standard jazz soundtrack. But turns out it’s more of a mix of that with a side dish of Match Point thrown it, as the central plot revolves around Joaquin Phoenix planning the perfect murder of a complete stranger. Not exactly what I had initially signed for if I’m entirely honest, but Mr. Allen very rarely disappoints, so what the hell I thought and saw it anyway.
First half of the film is quite good, great even. The time just flies be ause you’re having so much fun. It’s witty, funny, intellectual and very colorful with its story beats. There’s great use of Ramsey Lewis Trio’s “The ‘In’ Crowd” as a reoccurring theme song works remarkably well to add to the playful and occasionally comedic tone of the story. I loved the love triangle undertones that Emma Stone and Parker Posey brought to the table, the philosophical discussions and the captivating canvas of Joaquin’s inner turmoil and his slow descent to borderline depression. There’s a lot of content here, you could have easily made two completely different films with the amount of material present. And that is probably why in the end the story doesn’t come together as well as it could have. Where the film basically started to lose me was when the murder has taken place and the focus shifts more on Emma Stone’s POV as she slowly starts to suspect and then investigated whether or not Joaquin was the culprit. Up until that point I had quite enjoyed everything, but for whatever reason suddenly I found myself being a bit bored. It’s weird, I can’t really put my finger on why I wasn’t enjoying the film as much as I had the previous hour. I can’t blame the writing because honestly the story is entertaining to the very end and there are still plenty of amusing and good scenes left in the film. It just kinda lost me for a little while. Maybe it’s how everything slows down as it becomes more of a serious Columbo style murder mystery and the tonal shift threw me off balance, because I was enjoying the fast pace and more playful mood of the first half of the story. As a whole I enjoyed it but the second half does suck some of the life away, which is why I can kinda see where the negative and mixed critical reception is coming from.
This was just another instance of me being blown away how brilliant actor Joaquin is. I’ve really come to enjoy his performances in the last few years, he’s choosing very interesting and diverse projects where he really gets to flex his acting muscles. Parker Posey, disappointingly, only had a very small role, but she was super charming in just about every scene she was in. Playing a middle aged woman stuck in a dead end marriage and seeking thrills in an affair really played to her strengths, she was super likable and kinda sad in a vulnerable sort of way. My favorite scene was when she admits that she’d be shocked if Joaquin really was the killer, like she had jokingly theorized, but you know, despite that she’d still go with him to Europe if he asked her. A simple line of dialog perfectly sums her entire character up and it’s so endearing in a sympathetic but also sappy way. And let’s not forget Emma Stone. I haven’t really got a real opinion about her as actress, but she’s starting to grow on me. She was good in Birdman and for most of the running time here she had quite a pleasant vibe to her performance. Especially in the beginning when she’s excited about Joaquin’s character coming to the school, her enthusiasm is very captivating and charming as she becomes increasingly fixated with his company and ultimately falls in love with him. She and Joaquin shared great chemistry and it really makes the entire film so much more captivating to watch, it really sucks you into the story.
Before I forget, I have mention that it really is a funny movie in a slow burning, dry humor kind of way. When Joaquin dryly laments that Emma was right about one murder leading up to another as he realizes he has to murder her too to keep himself from going to prison, it gets a very strong chuckle out of you. It’s really not that funny as a joke but the build up to it and Joaquin’s delivery sells it as such. Same thing in the climax of the movie when Joaquin is trying to throw Emma down the elevator shaft, so her death would look like an accident, and it doesn’t go at all like planned. The entire scene turns into a morbid painstakingly funny slapstick skit as he has no real arm strength to just force her into the shaft anymore after his initial push fails to do the job and it just exponentially gets more hilarious as the scene keeps going on and he has to struggle to keep Emma from screaming by blocking her mouth and then the elevator door starts closing before he has had another chance to shove her down the shaft so he has to try and keep Emma contained while simultaneously get the doors open up again… It’s so awful what he’s trying to do to her but goddamn it if Allen isn’t making absolutely hilarious to watch. It still gets me laughing, just thinking about the scene. It’s not one of Allen’s best but it’s certainly a fun one.