Sweet and Lowdown

Directed by Woody Allen
Starring: Sean Penn, Samantha Morton, Uma Thurman, Anthony LaPaglia, Woody Allen.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content and some substance abuse.

Review by Matt Heffernan
January 22, 2000

No year is complete without at least one film from Woody Allen, but most people haven't been able to see his 1999 entry until now.

Sean Penn stars as Emmett Ray, a jazz guitarist in the 1930's who was the best in the world, except for a French Gypsy named Django Reinhardt. Allen and several jazz historians tell the many fabled stories about Emmett, in a sort of "Behind the Music" fashion. He was a strange fellow, whose hobbies included shooting rats at the dump and watching trains. While playing at a hotel on the Jersey Shore, he meets Hattie (Samantha Morton), a girl who actually enjoys joining Emmett in these activities. Emmett also likes talking about himself, and since Hattie is mute, they're a perfect match.

Emmett's band gets a job playing in a Hollywood movie, so Hattie follows him out there, and they live together for several years. That time is not kind to Emmett's career, and he eventually leaves her, even if she is the only woman he has ever truly loved. He then marries Blanche (Uma Thurman), a beautiful debutante, for no good reason. Their marriage is loveless, so she has an affair with Al (Anthony LaPaglia), a bodyguard whose reputation for murder turns her on.

Sweet and Lowdown is an interesting work to wrap up Allen's work of the 20th century. It has some of the screwball elements of his earliest work, while being episodic and introspective like his more recent films. It is a slight improvement over his previous film, Celebrity, but it's still a far cry from the sharp wit of Deconstructing Harry and Bullets over Broadway.

The crucial element this film lacks is a coherent story. Instead, Allen depends on the characters to make this film work -- and it does, to a certain degree. Penn has a lot of fun playing an outrageous character, something he hasn't really done since his star-making role in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Morton shines without saying a word, which the Academy likes -- just ask Holly Hunter.

So, this should be an acceptable fix for all the Woody addicts out there. His next directorial effort, Small Time Crooks, should premier this Spring. If you're a real stickler, you could call that film his last of the 20th century. Either way, there is still a glimmer of hope for some great work to come in this new millennium.

For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Sweet and Lowdown (1999)

Here's some merchandise for sale at Amazon.com
Sweet and Lowdown (1999) -- VHS
Sweet and Lowdown (1999) -- DVD
Sweet and Lowdown: Music from the Motion Picture -- Compact Disc

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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan