Sweet and Lowdown

Movie Review #767 | Alexander Diminiano

‘Sweet and Lowdown’ is a pleasant little movie about love…and its interference with egocentrism.

NOTE: As of June 8th, I have seen all but 15 of the 44 movies that Woody Allen has directed.  I’m challenging myself to complete the entire filmography before his 45th, “Magic in the Moonlight”, is released on July 25th.  Wish me luck!


Directed by Woody Allen. Written by Woody Allen. A Jean Doumanian Production. Copyright holders: Sweetland Films, B.V. and Magnolia Productions, Inc. Starring Sean Penn and Samantha Morton. Cameos: Michael Sprague as Django Reinhardt, and Woody Allen, Ben Duncan, Nat Hentoff, and Douglas McGrath as themselves. Premiered at Venice Film Festival on September 5, 1999. Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics in New York City, New York on December 3, 1999; and in Los Angeles, California on December 10, 1999. Rated PG-13: sexual content and some substance abuse. Runs 95 minutes.

Cinemaniac Reviews three stars

“Sweet and Lowdown” is the story of Emmet Ray, who is proclaimed by himself and his fans to be the greatest jazz guitarist in the world, behind Django Reinhardt.  Much of the movie is more concerned with the curiosity that this man seemingly possesses both Djangophilia and Djangophobia, than the endeavors of Ray hmself.  He seriously idolizes Django, and while he always claims to be the “greatest guitarist in the world,” his ego just can’t stop him from adding: “Except for this gipsy in France.”  Emmet cries when he listens to Django Reinhardt’s recordings.  He’ll faint if he sees Django, and he’s done so twice, so the story goes.

Of course, Emmet Ray is a fictional character, but that truth is sort of downplayed by some more of his back story.  Such as, “he flourished briefly during the 1930s,” and he only got around to recording six pieces.  Still, it’s pretty obvious he’s the second greatest jazz guitarist in the world, or one of them.  Guitarist Howard Alden dubbed over Sean Penn’s guitar playing (Penn in the lead role) and Alden’s solos are outstanding.

“Sweet and Lowdown” possesses a title that describes its main character perfectly.  Emmet Ray possesses a certain sweetness, despite his ability to come off as nasty with his incredible ego.  Sean Penn delivers the role with both charisma and affliction.  The movie centers prominently on the relationship between Ray and a mute woman named Hattie, the astonishing performance of Samantha Morton, who earned a well-deserved Oscar nomination for her delivery.  Despite the fact that Ray is eventually able to look at Hattie beyond her disability, he can’t quit talking about himself, nor can he quit bringing her out shooting ducks, an activity she clearly does not enjoy, but it’s her misfortune that she can’t say so to him.  The relationship falls apart, and another is introduced.  Uma Thurman delivers well as Ray’s new girlfriend, Blanche, but her appearance in the script, after so much of the plot’s focus on Hattie, makes the film seem incoherent.

Overall, “Sweet and Lowdown” is all sweet and scarcely lowdown.  Of course this is a Woody Allen movie so you can’t go in without the expectations of sarcasm, but there’s nothing overly sordid (or, lowdown) about it.  You’d be surprised also that this is a very light comedy, most especially in terms of the director’s standards.  It doesn’t offer the laughs we want out of a Woody Allen movie, that’s for sure, but it’s an enjoyably warmhearted movie.  Plus, the script is clever, and in an Allen movie, that’s almost always enough for me to say that the movie was pleasant. ✴


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