Scoop (2006, Woody Allen)

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

There’s barely anything about Woody Allen’s quite underrated Scoop that isn’t delightful. His second London film marks a complete turnaround from the bleak worldview of his prior two features, the dreamlike romance Melinda and Melinda and the wrenching thriller Match Point. Like the latter, Scoop stars Scarlett Johansson, at the time perhaps the most pervasive American actress; this is her first role in a while that recalls the strength she displayed in Ghost World and Lost in Translation. Truly and undeniably, the woman’s on to something, and Woody is a good match for her; everything in Scoop plays to her strengths.

Scoop is deliberately a small movie, and unusually lighthearted stuff from the director. Calling it lightweight would be a stretch; the film finds ways to comment on death, the afterlife, aging, death, crime, and in a callback of sorts to Shadows & Fog, magic. Woody himself plays — he said it would be his last film appearance, and his last comedy; thankfully, he reversed himself on both counts — a disgruntled magician who meets up with young journalist Johansson by accident just before she stumbles upon a ghost (yes, this is a Woody Allen movie) who informs her of a story she has to tackle: Wolverine from the X-Men is a fuckin’ murderer! So she and Woody, posing as her “father” (“Stop telling people I sprang from your loins!” she orders), team up to create ludicrously and wonderfully unbalanced Thin Man magic. I’d rather not say more except that this movie is hilarious and absolute top-notch fun for its full duration.

I don’t know why the reputation for the film is currently so low except that it seems people sort of decide in advance to hate any Woody Allen movie that’s a comedy, which is interesting since they did the opposite for most of the ’80s. My four favorite Woodys are everybody else’s, but other than that I don’t tend to go with the conventional wisdom about him; I’d rather watch this than Purple Rose of Cairo any time, and I think Alice and Shadows & Fog are the work of a master director. Some people think a pure “good time” at the movies is Grindhouse; Scoop is the same thing for me, and since the good-time part doesn’t stop people from labeling Grindhouse a work of art, I can’t deny that I think Scoop is just as enjoyable a movie as Match Point. Maybe it’s less important for Woody’s career, but that’s all I’m willing to allow.

Allen seemed around 2006 to have left behind both comedies and the Bergmanesque dramas he took several stabs at and never quite mastered in the ’80s; what we learned in the first decade of this century was how appallingly adept he was at creating suspense. Critics latched on to (and Allen acknowledged) Suspicion references in Scoop but much more blatant and less widely mentioned is the entire scene quoting Notorious which is quite a marvel in itself. In the positively gut-wrenching wine-cellar scene in Notorious, Hitchcock is juggling terror, suspense, mystery, characterization, and romance at once. Allen’s sequence sets the heart pounding but adds comedy — and of course, magic.

And Allen’s humor is still vital and smashing and immensely pleasing, his acting remains joyous, and basically, this is “light entertainment” so ecstatically lovely it’s almost exhausting. I wanted it to keep going when it was finished. I was disappointed by Whatever Works and To Rome with Love but I’d still be heartbroken if Woody Allen had stopped filming comedies. That would just be a crime, because even those films are the kind of entertainment that just feels good to me. I’m pleased he changed his mind.

[Posted originally in 2007. Props to my 23 year-old self for having this ready to go at the last minute when I couldn’t put up the review I wanted to post today.]

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