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Emmett Ray (Sean Penn) is a little known yet ultimately legendary jazz guitarist in the 1930s, second to none, except his idol, Django Reinhardt. Ray is a compulsive drinker, idealist and miscreant with fanciful ideas and although his guitar playing is superb, his unreliability causes him to be fired from his job at a New York night club. After a chance encounter, he forms a relationship with the timid, unglamorous laundress, Hattie (Samantha Morton), who turns out to be mute, but after some years of this on-off affair Ray impulsively marries aspiring writer Blanche (Uma Thurman). He divorces her when she has an affair with a mobster's hitman, Al Torrio (Anthony LaPaglia). But Hattie is always in his heart and Django is always in his mind….

"Woody Allen displays - and makes use of - all his obsessions here: story telling filmmaker, comedian, observer and writer, and jazz. Sweet and Lowdown is the sweet lowdown on Emmet Ray, a 'character' as they used to call people out of the ordinary before the war. (I say this from hearsay, not memory!) Or at least as Woody Allen can best put the man's story together from fragmented accounts. Allen's greatest achievement here is the creation of a persona that is so complicated and contradictory and creative and lovably irresponsible, so caught up in the yin/yang of his own genius, that he is entirely credible as a real person. The structure of the film is predominantly faux dramatic recreation. With great confidence, Allen also uses short pieces to camera from a handful of people who have something to say about Ray, including himself. Woody, while ageing physically, is mentally as sharp as ever, and as inventive. (It would do the film an injustice to call it a mockumentary; it is far less cycnical.) Sean Penn continues to amaze us with his inventive characterisations, his supple blending into another human being as multi dimensional as we are ourselves. Samantha Morton is sensational as the mute love of Ray's life and Uma Thurman rises to the challenge of Blanche, no doubt with some help from Allen. A satisfying and amusing film, it is also bordered with black, which grounds it well. The film's appeal is not wide, but if you'd like something to take away the taste of a boring life, this is it. Stylistically driven by its content, Sweet and Lowdown swings, stirs, lingers, hums and strums all at once."
Andrew L. Urban

"Epitomising the absurd and the poignant simultaneously, Woody Allen's Sweet and Lowdown is a delightful fable, full of quirky characters, humour and marvellous jazz. From a notion that's made in heaven, the film is played out as an improvised tune, with all the highs and lows, colours and shades imaginable. Allen's light touch brings us textured characters that are colourful and totally unpredictable. The rich production design and effective documentary style captures the essence of good story-telling and we are drawn into this extraordinary, compelling world where anything goes and life is at its most bizarre. Sean Penn's riveting performance as Emmett Ray is filled with nuance; he is a lovable, arrogant oaf whose obsession for his musical hero Django Reinhardt is both his inspiration and frustration. We are at times repulsed, at times fascinated by his character with the boofy hair and slimy mustache, and Penn's convincing ease handling the guitar is extraordinary (especially as he has never played the guitar before). Music isn't the only thing that Ray improvises – his life is one extraordinary improvisation. At the heart of the story is his relationship with Hattie (Samantha Morton, reminiscent of a silent screen star, is hypnotic as her eyes and expressions do the talking); she is the only one who intuitively understands Penn's idiosyncrasies watching passing trains, shooting rats and is mesmerized by his music. There are many scenes that stay with you after this film, but there's a special, poignant moment after they become lovers, when Hattie getting dressed in the bathroom and Ray picks up his guitar and starts to play. He is sitting up in bed, cigarette in mouth as he plays a simply beautiful rendition of 'I'm forever Blowing Bubbles', Hattie watching and listening, hypnotised. As the tune is repeated later in the film, the mood of this special scene comes back like a delectable flavour is recalled to the palate. The entire ensemble cast is terrific, and Uma Thurman is especially striking. And then of course there's the music, toe-tapping, heart-starting, glorious jazz. Sweet and Lowdown is a cinematic gem, and one that is thoroughly recommended."
Louise Keller

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CAST: Sean Penn, Anthony LaPaglia, Brian Markinson, Gretchen Mol, Samantha Morton, Uma Thurman, James Urbaniak, John Waters, Woody Allen

DIRECTOR: Woody Allen

PRODUCER: Jean Doumanian

SCRIPT: Woody Allen


EDITOR:Alisa Lepselter

MUSIC: Dick Hyman




AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 13, 2000 (Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide)


VIDEO RELEASE: May 16, 2001

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