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Sunday, 22 November 2009

Review: Scoop, dir Woody Allen (2006) 

Set in a privileged version of London, the film successfully marries a crime thriller with classic Allen stand-up comedy, this time with the added boost of Scarlett Johansson doing excellent stand-up against Hugh Jackman's straight guy. The romantic drama between Sondra Pransky (Johansson) and Peter Lyman (Jackman) is a necessary device to propel the crime thriller, and helps to produce a lot of good gags that play on the rich-guy-dates-eager-ingenue trope, complete with expensive bauble and champagne between the sheets.

Johansson is surprisingly good in the role of the earnest student reporter, Pransky, who meets up with dead investigative reporter Joe Strombel (played with comic brilliance by a handsome, if slightly gnarled, Ian McShane). Strombel has met up with the ex-secretary of Lyman on a boat crossing the River Styx in the afterlife, and she has given him a potential scoop. While waiting inside the magic booth of The Great Splendini (Allen), Pransky meets Strombel's ghost - the dead journo is stubbornly "cheating death" in order to make the scoop real - and is given a few details about what could turn out to be a big story.

Pransky and Splendini (whose real name is Sid Waterman) kick into gear, with Waterman pretending to be Pransky's dad while they con Lyman into inviting Pransky (who adopts the name Jade Spence) to his country estate. A romance develops between hunky Lyman - who Strombel believes is a notorious killer called 'The Tarot Card Killer' - and Pransky/Spence.

It's a Shakespearean plot, with extra nuts and a generous dose of Allen's best whacky-syrup. The comedy is excellent from both Allen and Johansson.

All the pretending and false relationships makes you think, inevitably, of Allen's own saga, relating to his wife Soon-Yi.

There's further interest in his treating journalism as though it were some form of magic act. Waterman's inevitable schtick of sincere gratitude toward his audience - played out in the same way each time and at every opportunity - sits uneasily against the business of reporting. It's as though journalists are some sort of performers who never play to their audience without injecting a solid dose of flattery.

Allen has had a lot of experiece with journalists, so I assume that his 'take' on the profession - as expressed in this movie - contains more than a grain of truth. It should be noted that the worker's union that covers journalists, in Australia, also caters to clowns and prostitutes.

Enough said about THAT!

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