Sweet and Lowdown

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Photograph: British Film Institute

The title of Woody Allen's film just about sums it up in three respects. First, it evokes the '30s jazz scene setting. Second, it pinpoints the two lead characters: waifish laundress Hattie (Morton), a mute, passive, generous-spirited halfwit; and Emmett Ray (Penn), the philandering, hard-living, self-obsessed guitar virtuoso who, having been lumbered with her on a double date, remains far too busy talking about himself ever to finish with her properly once and for all. Third, 'lowdown' might be one's initial impression of this potentially poor-taste conceit, but 'sweet' is spot-on for the film's tender warmth, which lingers in the memory long after it's over. The story is simple, charting the ups and downs in the relationship between Ray (whose idea of showing a girl a good time is to take her rat-shooting, and whose main concern in life is that he'll never measure up to his hero Django Reinhardt) and the devoted Hattie, and their various encounters with slumming sophisticates (Thurman as a writer who lures Ray away from Hattie), mobsters (the dependable LaPaglia), Hollywooders, musos and so on. Meanwhile, 'interviews' with jazz fans - Woody included - commenting on Ray's life and art interrupt and reflect on what is finally a fable of pride, prejudice, self-obsession and redemption. Like many of Allen's best films, this is a deceptively modest affair, funny and charming but seemingly slight and inconsequential - until the killer coda. The sense of period and place is assured, the music delicious, the performances terrific. Penn, particularly, is a joy to behold, never ingratiating or maudlin, wholly credible even in the musical scenes, effortlessly expressing both the latent insecurity and artistic determination that fuel Ray's energies. Bittersweet indeed.

Release details

Duration: 95 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Woody Allen
Screenwriter: Woody Allen
Cast: John Waters
Uma Thurman
Samantha Morton
Antony LaPaglia
Sean Penn
Brian Markinson
James Urbaniak
Gretchen Mol

Average User Rating

3.8 / 5

Rating Breakdown

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E A Dobson

I grew up on Woody Allen & there was a time i wouldn`t miss watching a new release for the world,however those times are long gone & the last film of his i watched all the way through was the thoroughly enjoyable Small Time Crooks(also highly recommended).Almost all reviews i`ve read since seem to mention a return to form,i gave Melinda & Melinda a chance & gave up half way through.Back to this film which i`ve watched a couple of times recently & with each watch it gets better.Time out`s review is fairly spot on so i needn`t add to it.