Film Reviews (2006)  

In “Scoop” two Hollwyood careers going in opposite directions are brought into amusing, if uneasy and short-lived balance: Woody Allen’s wisecracking, anachronistic comedy with Scarlett Johansson’s languid, youthful glamour. The fun of Allen’s latest curio comes less from the farcical plot involving a possibly murderous aristocrat than it does from the neat little ways in which the screen personalities of Allen and Johansson intersect.

There are fresh notes here. Surprisingly, Allen’s not yet the cranky, exhausted old curmudgeon he appeared to be next to Jason Biggs in “Anything Else”, and Johansson finally departs from her usual wistful coming-of-age typecasting long enough to flash a quick, sardonic wit to go with her bombshell looks. Sondra Pransky, as her spiky name implies, is not one of Allen’s typical idealized, airy, tightly-wound leading ladies. She has little patience for Allen’s act, often snapping at him, and in this way she acts as a welcome proxy for an audience which is undoubtedly tiring of his well-worn schtick.

Though it sounds icky, Allen’s avuncular Sid is a better foil for Johansson’s Sondra than her love interest, Hugh Jackman, who fails to invest his role with more than an affable flatness. His dashing, impeccable aristocrat Peter Lyman is as hollow inside as, say, one of Brett Easton Ellis’s bad boys, only without the lurid charm of a drug addiction. There’s no play in his playboy. He’s more of an upper-class cud-chewer than a daring and devilish rake; his reasons for murder are, well, justifiable if not quite forgivable. But the restive schmuck Sid Waterman, Allen’s cranky magician, brings zip to his scenes with Sondra, often at his own expense, keeping the comedy brisk and light-footed.

Johansson is one major role away from attaining the status of Hayworth, Monroe, Baccal, and all the other canonized goddesses of the screen. Her ideal role remains elusive, but not for lack of trying. Allen is the second auteur she’s worked with, Sofia Coppola being the first, and her desire to rise to their levels, as muse or otherwise, is palpable. She has an ambitious look in both “Scoop” and “Match Point”, one hinting at a serious commitment to the writing, that suggests the actress is earnestly and openly seeking to benefit from Allen’s genius.

Allen’s starmaking ability has waned, though. If the writing is decent, as a director he seems unable to do anything but light her properly. As in other recent films of hers, like “A Love Song For Bobby Long”, Johansson seems to be in a peculiar, Norma Desmond-like predicament in which she can legitimately complain, at the tender age of 22, that the pictures have already gotten small. The budding journalist she plays in “Scoop” is plucky and winsome enough, but from the beginning it’s obvious the movie is out of proportion to Johansson’s star power. The dorkier she is made to be in the film, the more the irony is underlined. When Peter saves Sondra from drowning, and Johansson sits poolside in a simple one-piece red bathing suit, her blockbuster curves instantly make her erstwhile frumpy coed seem like a cheap disguise. Indeed, the sight of her gamely blinking like a nerd as she puts on her specs is every bit as absurd as watching Superman disguising himself with a pair of coke-bottle glasses.

This was no accident, of course. Allen and his excellent cinematographer, Remi Adefarasin, are aware of Johansson’s beauty and simply bask in its radiance. It is doubtful Johansson will ever look better than she does in “Scoop” or “Match Point”. She looks gorgeous with Jakman, electric alongside Allen.

While many eyebrows are no doubt raised at Allen and Johansson’s professional dalliance, Allen’s self-aware script takes a number of shots at the creepy May-December romances in his films and Hollywood in general. Sondra and Sid are never close to being an item. The plot requires Sid, her mentor of sorts, to pretend he’s her father. Sondra goes along with the conceit but lashes him with sarcasm again and again. Both actors play their age and wring some hearty laughs out of the wide gap of years between them. It becomes a running joke that relaxes us and allows for the plot to unspool without lingering anxieties about inappropriate infatuations. With a nicely constructed plot, lovely scenery (of all kinds), and the veteran sureness of Allen’s touch, “Scoop” is a satisfying confection.