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Sweet And Lowdown (1999)

The story of the second greatest jazz guitarist of all time.

Directed by:

Woody Allen

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 95 minutes

UK Certificate: PG

On DVD

Country: United States

1930s jazz musician Emmet Ray was a drunk, a kleptomaniac, a pimp, a loudmouth, a womaniser, and one helluva guitar plucker. He was also completely fictional, dreamt up by writer-director Woody Allen for the purposes of this dramatised mockumentary.

Perhaps surprisingly, given the Woodster’s habit of starring in his own films and his well-documented love of the jazz scene (1997’s ‘Wild Man Blues’ followed him and his New Orleans pub band as they traipsed around the concert halls of Europe), he resists the temptation to play Emmet himself. Instead, he pops up only occasionally in talking head mode, and leaves the front man duties to Sean Penn.

Penn, it has to be said, is perfect in the role, injecting both humour and thoughtfulness into this troubled character. Also on good form is Uma Thurman, who plays her part with tongue firmly in cheek as she beds and weds our protagonist before developing the hubba-hubbas for Anthony LaPaglia’s knuckle-dragging bouncer. But if there’s one cast member you’re likely to remember this for, it’s Samantha Morton, who manages to outshine each of her co-stars without uttering as much as a single line of dialogue. She’s Hattie, the mute simpleton who becomes Ray’s one love against his will, and the subtlety of her performance is a joy to behold (in fact, both her and Penn received Oscar noms for this one).

If ‘Sweet and Lowdown’ has one major fault it’s that the story just isn’t strong enough to fill its 95 minutes. Yes, it’s quirky and funny, but it’s also a bit of a one trick pony – and by the time we’ve seen Ray take a THIRD ladyfriend to watch trains and/or shoot rats at the dump (the old romantic), it’s grown a bit of a beard. Fortunately, the strong performances, nicely-underplayed humour and – of course – the music make this a likeable film to take in. It’s not a classic, but it’s a nice way to pass the time.

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It's Got: A “talent” show featuring a bloke twanging a saw, a chubby woman singing, and a guy who can make owl noises (actually, that last one’s quite impressive).

It Needs: Some stronger plot developments.

DVD Extras Talent files and a theatrical trailer. DVD Extras Rating: 2/10

Alternatives:

Paper Moon, Wild Man Blues

Summary

Like jazz? Like Woody Allen? Like stuff that’s quite good? Then you’ll probably like ‘Sweet and Lowdown’.

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