Scoop (2006)

[28 July 2006]

By Kevin Wong

Self-Indulgent

Woody Allen is usually an intensely intimate filmmaker. So much so that his stars tend to adopt his mannerisms, from his halting speech patterns to his fluttery hand gestures. Scarlett Johansson follows suit in Scoop, a repetitive movie that never deviates from what viewers have come to expect from Allen’s latter work. 

It begins inventively. Acclaimed British newspaper reporter Joe Strombel (Ian McShane) dies, and on the boat to hell, he gets a crucial lead on the Tarot Card Serial Killer terrorizing London. So determined is he to get the scoop that Joe comes back as a ghost to deliver the clue to Sondra Pransky (Scarlett Johansson), an American college student vacationing in London. A comedy focused on the journalist’s sometimes vulture-like tendencies could have been funny, and for the first 10 minutes here, it seems like a refreshing possibility.

But Scoop quickly devolves into familiarity. By his own admission, Allen has only played two primary roles over the course of 30-plus years—the intellectual professor type and low-aiming hustler. Allen shoehorns himself into this plot as the latter, a cheap magician named Splendini, who finds himself drawn into Sondra’s hijinks. The pairing of Allen and Johansson recalls Bringing Up Baby, and like Cary Grant, Allen’s character here resists the adventure while he secretly loves every liberating second of it. Despite his insistence that he “made other plans,” Splendini accompanies Sondra on her investigations.

They pursue Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman), an aristocrat whom Strombel believes to be the killer. Sondra falls in love with Peter, and Splendini, posing as her father, begins to care for her like a daughter. Johansson, whose glasses and flustered look recall Mia Farrow in Zelig, gives a warm, gabby performance that recalls the zaniest of Allen’s women. Precocious and rough-edged, Sondra brings to the film a brash enthusiasm. Whether arguing with Joe or pretending to drown in front of Peter, Johansson’s Sondra is her own character.

But while no one would confuse Sondra Pransky with Annie Hall, Splendini is much like previous Allen characters. At the start of the film, he is cowardly, physically weak, and can’t drive to save his life. During an early “heart-to-heart” with Sondra, Splendini reveals that his wife left him, and he has no one to care for him in his old age. He blames himself, saying he was “immature,” but this minute-long confession is the last the viewer hears about his personal life. By the end of Scoop, he is more mature, courageous, and protective, but his route to this change in character, as well as his devotion to Sondra, seem unmotivated.

This sort of arrested development appears in many of Allen’s films. In his world, men are misogynistic and, regardless of age, ethnicity, or social position, listen to jazz and classical music. Allen’s many alter egos, from Alvy Singer to Larry Lipton, are immature, nervous Brooklynites with a fondness for younger women. On top of his sameness, Splendini is also superfluous and strikingly out of place.

Just so, his one-liners and extended gags mostly fall flat. One in particular—“I was born into the Hebrew persuasion, but when I grew up I converted to Narcissism”—only restates what we already know about Splendini. A running gag has Splendini viewing the entire world as his stage. Whether in front of a paying crowd or British bluebloods, he’s cracking bawdy jokes or performing card tricks. Splendini adlibs constantly but also repeats himself, and while his tics may illustrate his “immaturity,” they’re also increasingly irritating and unfunny. Allen once channeled Bergman in Interiors and Fellini in Stardust Memories, and he was criticized by some for crossing the line between tribute and plagiarism. But in Scoop, he commits a more self-indulgent crime, paying tribute to his own works.

Scoop - Trailer

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/scoop-20061/