| August 12, 2006

For better or worse, Woody Allen has an influence on those he works with. Or maybe he is the most high visibile version of my Holy Triumvirate philosophy. Stated briefly, when one person writes, directs and stars in a film, there are not enough people in the creative mix and a film cannot be as good as the premise would imply.
In Scoop, a young college journalist student (Scarlett Johansson as Sondra Pransky) is handed the biggest scoop of the century from the spirit of a newly deceased journalist (Deadwood’s Ian McShane as Joe Strombel) hungry for one more big story. I like it.
But Allen looks at that premise and thinks….”How can I be in this film, spending as much time as possible with a young, nubile actress and possibly fall into a romantic interlude with her?” His angle? Strombel appears to Pransky while she is a volunteer in a magic trick performed by The Great Splendini (Allen as Sid Waterman). Why there? Why her? The answers given in the film just don’t add up. Regardless of the math, Pransky and Waterman now have what they believe is the identity of Britain’s “Tarot Card Killer” and are off to gather enough evidence to publish the scoop. On the way, Pransky meets and falls in love with a British aristocrat (she calls Allen her father – something which might bother most actors, but in Allen’s case…).
What really puts the brakes on this film is the character’s way of speaking, and it appears to be an affectation that Allen, the director, insists Johansson use. Imagine Allen talking to his therapist. Or in any monologue longer than two sentences. Or whatever… He has a way of sounding. And whether she wanted to do it, or possibly Allen said, “That was a great cut, but just for the heck of it, try it this way” she is made to sound like Allen. And it’s annoying. And it’s laughable. And it is very sad for the 22-year-old (too old for Allen?) Johansson. She has shown us fantastic performances in Lost in Translation and Girl with Pearl Earring while starring in the typical 20’s type films (The Perfect Score, In Good Company) but in this film, is forced to play across from Allen’s ego. I very much look forward to seeing her play opposite some real acting talents in the next two years: Paul Giamatti in the Nanny Diaries, Hillary Swank and Aaron Eckhart in The Black Dahlia, and Natalie Portman in The Other Boleyn Girl.
If you like Allen’s films, this one is better than most have been for the last, oh, 20 years. If you don’t like Allen’s films, this one might be worth catching on cable for the eight or nine laughs that exist.

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