Sweet and Lowdown (1999) / Comedy-Drama
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sexual content and some substance abuse
Running Time: 95 min.
Cast: Sean Penn, Samantha Morton, Uma Thurman, brian Markinson, Anthony LaPaglia, James Urbaniak, Gretchen Mol, John Waters, Brad Garrett, Woody Allen, Ben Duncan, Kaili Vernoff
Director: Woody Allen
Screenplay: Woody Allen
Review published January 3, 2005
Another light, slight delight from filmmaker Woody Allen (Everyone Says I Love You, Mighty Aphrodite), who pens this fictional story about jazz guitarist Emmet Ray (Penn, U-Turn), a genius of an artist, second only to Django Reinhardt in his prowess on the guitar. As painted by Allen, Ray was an alcoholic, womanizer, kleptomaniac, and all-out jack-ass, but he was good at what he did, and he had some wild stories that merit telling. Constructed as a mixed documentary and biopic, Allen brings this film together, splicing interviews with real people along with dramatized flashbacks of Ray in the 1930s, and his exploits from talented unknown to budding star.
Through the course of the movie, Ray brags about how he is a genius, and lets everyone know of his prodigious talents, which would make him unlikable if he weren't such a pathetic person. In denial about many things, Emmet had a hard time ever achieving stability in his life, choosing to leave the things that were good for him and wallowing in those activities that were bad. Allen mostly concentrates on two aspects: Ray's career as a musician and his loves with women, including a mute named Hattie (Morton, Minority Report) and a sophisticated thrill-seeking writer named Blanche (Thurman, The Avengers).
Sweet and Lowdown succeeds due to Allen's knack for funny characterizations, combined with his love for the 1930s jazz era. One can readily tell that Allen is in a zone of comfort with the personalities, lavishly recreating the sounds and times of swing music in rich detail. It certainly also helps that he has one of Hollywood's finest actors in Sean Penn to play the mercurial Ray, a troubled man who gets into many comical situations for reasons that not even he knows.
Sweet and Lowdown isn't the best of Allen's works, but taken as a light dessert film, it goes down easy, with lively performances (both Penn and Morton would receive Oscar nominations) and music that is as pleasant to listen to as the film is to watch.
©2005 Vince Leo