Sweet And Lowdown
Directed by Woody Allen
Starring Sean Penn, Samantha Morton, Uma Thurman
In an era of jazz greats, some greats stand out less than others. Emmett Ray (Penn) is such a man. Haunted by the gypsy guitarist Django Rheinhart, Emmett drinks, whores, and plays some great tunes while seeking sex and fleeing women. Emmett finds the cute but mute Hattie an acceptable partner for a year or so, ’til he realizes he’s falling in love with a good woman, and we’re not having any of THAT, mind you. He dumps Hattie for a psycobabbling Uma Thurman, who sleeps around while researching a book. When Emmett’s not playing or sobering up in an alley, he enjoys shooting rats in the dump and watching trains. You want to hang with this dude.
With excellent acting all around, Sweet And Lowdown is a fictionalized story of a man so interesting that since he didn’t exist, Woody had to create him. The man and this story rings true, and you have to pay attention to the end of the credits to see his songs attributed to Dick Hyman, not the fictional Emmett. Kleptomaniac, congenital liar, drunk, and perpetual deadbeat, no one plays Emmett like Penn can Penn. Even the caterpillar he kept on his upper lip in Hurly Burly has trimmed itself down to a more behaved cardboard paste on.
With the strong cast and wonderful jazz guitar, the movie is crawling with little anachronisms that are fun to watch for. Modern trains and a reverb sound that didn’t exist until Les Paul invented it don’t quite fit the Depression-era setting, and all the cars are way too clean, but Sweet And Lowdown is a pleasant evening’s entertainment, without the neurotic self-examination one so often see from America’s 38th greatest film director.