Monday, February 12, 2007

Woody Allen's Scoop

When you first see Wood Allen in his comic, romantic mystery Scoop, he is Splendini, the magician, launching into a show in front of packed theater somewhere in London. He essays a number of tricks to thunderous applause and the expression on his face is of bewildered amusement. Splendini is surprised as much as he is delighted at the audience reception.

This might well be how Allen reacted to the reception for his last movie, Match Point. Made with $15 million – luxurious by his own standards – and written and directed by Allen, the morality drama bagged $78 million in box office receipts to become the biggest hit of his career. It marked a creative revival for the stagnating multi-hyphenate and made it on a lot of year-end lists as one of the best. If you didn’t know better, you’d never guess that Match Point was an Allen film at all – so intense, gripping and tightly framed was it.

A few seconds later in the same scene, Splendini starts talking. And the words tumble out of his mouth, tripping over one another, much like any of Allen’s characters from dozens of movies past. Suddenly you realize, Woody Allen is playing Woody Allen again! At this point, you could have two reactions. You may chuckle with delight, in which case you should - especially if you are doing this on a Sunday afternoon - sit back to have a really good time at the movies. On the other hand if you roll your eyes or emit a soft moan because Allen is doing his usual shtick, then turn the movie off and return the DVD immediately because you’ll be disappointed.

There are two things about Scoop that make it a problematic movie for some audiences.

First, it’s not Match Point. And that’s not a frivolous point to make. Match Point rode on people’s lack of expectations and delightfully jolted them. Many felt Allen had resurrected himself and the movie would mark a creative turning point in his career. For those who held that belief and waited eagerly for his next surprise, Scoop is a return to the type of films he has churned out for years and hence largely a disappointment.

The second issue is, I’m afraid, Allen himself. In a scene in the movie Allen delivers an uproariously funny line to a guest at a party: “I used to be of Hebrew persuasion but I’ve recently converted to Narcissism”. True to that statement, the movie gets consumed by Allen’s personality. To be fair, his presence also gives the movie the light-footedness required to pull off the more implausible aspects of the plot, but the drama, when it arrives, is distinctly low-cal.

The movie is largely informal in its execution, even loose and improvised at times, with very workman-like framing. This allows the actors to act in a theater-like crucible and interestingly, for us to be able to observe the actors closely.

For the record, I quite enjoyed Scoop. Sure it’s unmemorable, but all movies don’t have to be unforgettable. Sometimes just being entertaining enough works quite well.

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