Scoop (2006): Uncovering Woody Allen

Jane Hoffman

I don’t know if I have all the tools to uncover Woody Allen.  I have nuanced versions of his multiple microcosms of personality clipped and pasted into different actors in movies and time periods that rush to my senses and strip me bear of my own insecurities.  Is Woody Allen capable of setting a mood or plot?  “He adored New York City.  He idolized it all out of proportion... To him, no matter what the season was, this was still a town that existed in black and white and pulsated to the great tunes of George Gershwin.”  (from Manhattan) The answer is most definitely yes.  His plot formation is not always as clean in his farces as it is in his dark dramas.   In Curse of the Jade Scorpion, both Helen Hunt and Woody Allen get hypnotized by a crooked jewel thief who seduces them into committing unlikely crimes for him.  She is an efficiency expert hired to clean up the office and he is an investigative insurance adjuster.  The movie takes place in the 1940s and the roles of men and women were more defined.  However, Helen Hunt dominates his character through assertiveness.  Allen allowed her to push him into a passive role.  In Scoop, where Allen co-stars with Scarlett Johansson, she gets a visit from the ghost of a well known journalist, Joe Strombel, who reveals to her character the identity of the serial tarot card killer.   Johansson has become Allen’s prodigy in recent years with roles in Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Matchpoint.   In Scoop, she plays a college journalist on the brink of breaking a big story after a tip from Joe Strombel.  In this movie, I do think Allen tries to conform Johansson’s character into a Diane Keaton style frenzy equipped with glasses she wears the entire time yet he wittles her down to a nerdy adolescent.   Some of her wardrobe is tween and child-like, with short sleeved blouses and puffed sleeves which detours from her natural sexual appeal.   This is one movie where Allen’s character doesn’t hit on a female part.  He plays a father, mentor type.   After Scarlett’s character, Sondra Pransky, meets the deceased journalist inside of a magician’s trick closet, she is intent on using this scoop to solve the mystery.  Allen plays a magician named Sid Waterman whose stage name is Splendini and he joins Pransky on her journey to follow Peter Lyman, a 4th generation artistocrat who is suspect in the crime.  The screwball farce takes Sid and Sondra through many scenes where they try to get close to the English blue bloods.  Sondra fakes drowning at the governor’s club in which her aristocratic friend arranged to get close to Mr. Lyman.  She wears a form fitting red one piece in the pool that brings out her curvaceous features.   From then on, she uses Lyman to get close to the task of exposing his true identity as the tarot card killer.   She brings Sid with her to most of their social engagements and Sid awes the elite with card tricks and illusions.  He’s invited to play poker with the best.  The first night of poker, Peter Lyman shows up late and there is another tarot card murder.   Sondra goes snooping through a private music room with valuable instruments.  The combination to get in the room is given by Joe Strombel who also appears to Sid.  He botches the code and locks himself in but Sandra gets in a second time.  She finds tarot cards hidden under a French horn.   Peter tells her he has to go out of town.   Sid and Sondra are celebrating her birthday and see Peter walk by.   They follow him to a creepier side of town and he disappears.  Later that night, a short haired prostitute dies who resembles his mother.  Sid discovers the victim has the same name as the one Peter had written down in a briefcase.  Two thirds through the film, after clues begin mounting, It’s discovered by another journalist that a local schizophrenic who is a transient confesses to all the crimes.  Sondra starts falling for Paul and pushes aside the idea he could still be the killer.  Sid goes out on his own and tricks the housekeeper to go upstairs while he goes back into the private music room and finds a door key which fits in the lock of the hooker who lived in the neighborhood.  Sid follows up by trying to convince Sondra that he is still the killer.  She goes off on a weekend with Peter in which he tries to drown her for posing as someone else.  She had revealed to him all the theories that she had revealing her suspicions of him.  Sid dies in a car crash on his way to save Sondra but her first tells someone about his findings.  It is still discovered that Peter lied after he called the police saying a woman accidentally drown while canoeing.  Sondra shows up and tells the police what happened.
This movie is different because Woody Allen didn’t try to deepen the conflict by having actors present cross desires and mixed motives of lust towards each other.  In most of Allen’s early movies, at least one affair and betrayal occurs in which the rejected partner ends up with someone else.  Deception and infidelity are two major themes in all of Woody Allen’s movies.   Woody Allen’s characters depend on self-deprecating, double-reverse acid wit  for their appeal. In this comedy there is no relational plot theory intended to project a greater life lesson.  In  Deconstructing Harry, Allen uses a sequence of actors to represent his life failures of infidelity and betrayal.  The protagonist dilemma serves as a way to confess his shortcomings.  In both Deconstructing Harry and Scoop, his character reveals neither of his marriages worked due to immaturity and never growing up.  Yet one critic says despite Allen’s use of humor, he attempts to create a moral quest or framework in a godless universe in all of his more serious films.   In Crimes and Misdemeanors, the character Judah kills his lover for threatening to contact his wife and demand money from him.  Judah, the murderer, unconsciously distances himself from the layers of decision making he uses to ask someone else to carry out the murder itself.  The movie is more about moral vacancy than about characters, and so Allen uses type-casting to quickly establish the characters and set them to their tasks of seduction, deception, lying and worse.   In Manhattan, Woody Allen uses dialogue and argument to bring out moral issues.  One of his opening lines was “New York was a metaphor for the decay of contemporary culture. The same lack of individual integrity that caused so many people to take the easy way out was rapidly turning the town of his dreams into…”  When Diane Keaton attacks Ingmar Bergman’s influence as bleak and dark she states, “One tries to dignify one’s psychological and sexual hang-ups by attaching them to grandiose, philosophical issues.”  Alllen fires back at her, “She is probably one of those intellects who sits on the floor eating wine and cheese and mispronouncing words like allegorical and didacticism.”  Keaton attacks Woody’s beloved Ingmar Bergman as fashionable pessimist, something he embraces.  Allen’s most engaging films are those in which he intellectualizes streamlined great thinkers influence into dialogue.  His most successful films have been Crimes and Misdemeanors and Matchpoint in which the aspects of the evil driven characters are still jaded and distracted, but it doesn’t take away from the pacing and climax.  In Matchpoint, his characters have an undercurrent of deception that is not littered with confusion.  Like Curse of the Jade Scorpoin, Scoop has the thin, cheap feel of a novelty act.   Sid’s magic tricks are entertaining but the script doesn’t have the depth or final revelation to make one sit on the edge of their seat waiting for that final key to the puzzle.  It seems like a screenplay more written for kicks to showcase Scarlett Johansson as his pet project.  Both Allen and Johansson work well together without empowering either sex in competition but nothing particularly stands out except  Sid sacrificially dies in pursuit of truth.    Like Deconstructing Harry, which shows 7 layers of a comical hell, Scoop shows an after –life scene on a smoky ship in which at least one who has descended manages to escape.  Grade B-