London. High society. Scarlett Johansson. These were the three key elements of ‘Match Point’ (2005) and they also define ‘Scoop’, Woody Allen’s newest film. Is it simply a repeat of the successful formula used last year? Does it show that the Manhattan genius has been lacking ideas since the turn of the century? Fortunately, it’s neither one nor the other. ‘Scoop’ is a funny, well crafted film. The only points that it does have in common with ‘Match Point’ are its setting and leading lady.
The tale begins with a ghost. The phantom is a successful journalist, who receives his final scoop on the road to Purgatory – he learns the identity of a murderer who has the whole of London gripped by fear. Stubborn even after death, the reporter appears to an innocent journalism student (Scarlett Johansson) to tell her the secret.
This is not the first time Allen has included elements of the fantastic in his storylines. Previously, the director had used fantastic characters to meddle with the (already complicated) human relationships that he portrayed. In ‘The Purple Rose of Cairo’ (1985), the leading character becomes flesh and blood after leaving the cinema screen, and in ‘Love and Death’ (1975), the figure of Death pursues the protagonists with a dagger.
However, to be honest, if we had to compare ‘Scoop’ to other Allen films, it would be with ‘Manhattan Murder Mystery’ (1993), an amazing work in which there is little room for fantasy. ‘Scoop’ has the same fast pace and the tone of light comedy. Moreover, Allen plays in both films, typically paranoid, talkative and sceptical.
The main difference is in the quality of the two films. If ‘Manhattan Murder Mystery’ is a classic modern comedy with brilliant dialogue and a memorable ending, ‘Scoop’ is nothing more than a pleasant, light film to laugh at for ninety minutes. This will disappoint those who were hoping to reach the heights of ‘Match Point’. But ‘Scoop’ will put a smile back on the faces of those who have enjoyed light, suspenseful comedies such as ‘The Curse of the Jade Scorpion’ or ‘Anything Else’ (2003).
One of the most attractive points for European fans of the famed director is that the story is set in England. Although it may seem odd, Allen had barely filmed outside of his home area during his long career. Since ‘Match Point’, however, the New Yorker seems keen to cover the whole of Europe. Allen, an American Jew, is currently editing another comedy that he filmed in London last summer with Colin Farrell and Ewan McGregor. However, the New Yorker’s desire for all things European is not limited to the British capital: Allen announced in that his next movie will be filmed in a working district of Barcelona, and that he had already spoken with Penelope Cruz about the starring role.
With ‘Scoop’, he returns to London, taking his camera inside the incredible homes of the British elite, where he filmed on location in a naturalistic style, something almost unheard of in his filmography. English aristocrats, however, are not very different to North American ones, according to Allen. The only differences are their character, accent and tastes. We know that Allen has a certain sympathy for Europe, but many of the characters in ‘Scoop’ and ‘Match Point’ are just as hypocritical and cynical as the characters in his previous productions. At this stage in his career, it is difficult for Allen to change his disenchanted vision of humans, even if Scarlett Johansson plays an innocent scatter-brain, a completely new role for this prolific actress.
‘Scoop’ premiered officially at the Sitges Film Festival. It will be released in Spain at the end of October, in France on November 1 and on November 16 in Germany.