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Sweet and Lowdown (1999)



Average Rating: 6.8/10
Reviews Counted: 60
Fresh: 47 | Rotten: 13

Critics praise Woody Allen's Sweet and Lowdown for its charming, light-hearted comedy and quality acting.


Average Rating: 6.5/10
Critic Reviews: 16
Fresh: 11 | Rotten: 5

Critics praise Woody Allen's Sweet and Lowdown for its charming, light-hearted comedy and quality acting.



liked it
Average Rating: 3.6/5
User Ratings: 13,659

My Rating

Movie Info

Emmet Ray, according to himself, was the greatest jazz guitarist of the 1920s and 1930s. At least in New York, anyway. Although Ray certainly had a signature style and a melodic skill, those who knew Ray best admit that perhaps he was best known in his extra-musical roles -- as a pimp and a kleptomaniac whose fatal flaws hung over his career like a black cloud.

Jun 20, 2000

Sony Pictures Classics - Official Site External Icon

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All Critics (83) | Top Critics (22) | Fresh (47) | Rotten (13) | DVD (12)

Droll and amusing.

August 15, 2002 Full Review Source: Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

A shallow portrait of the artist as a cad.

March 22, 2002 Full Review Source: Globe and Mail
Globe and Mail
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Emmet Ray is a fictional character, but so convincing in Woody Allen's Sweet and Lowdown that he seems like a real chapter of jazz history we somehow overlooked.

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: At the Movies
At the Movies
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Woody Allen, in his thirtieth outing as writer-director, still shows signs of change, improvement, depth of feeling.

September 23, 2007 Full Review Source:

Thanks to Morton's presence, it gets closer to the sweetness of the wonderful Everyone Says I Love You.

May 26, 2006 Full Review Source: Combustible Celluloid
Combustible Celluloid

Focusing on the story, the auteur explores his two favorite topics, jazz and s----heels, to enter the new millenium in style.

December 6, 2005 Full Review Source: Film Threat
Film Threat

... seems to be the latest chapter in a great work on the artist's search for meaning, for self-worth, for redemption.

December 6, 2004 Full Review Source: Looking Closer
Looking Closer

If you aren't sure you like jazz, see this movie just to be exposed to the Django sound! Your next trip might be to the record store.

November 21, 2003 Full Review Source: Cinema Signals
Cinema Signals

Combining the worst traits of his two most recent outings--the overweening cruelty of Deconstructing Harry and the formal and narrative laziness of Celebrity.

March 19, 2003 Full Review Source: Nick's Flick Picks
Nick's Flick Picks

A pleasant film. It's sweet and low down on my list of Allen favorites, but worth seeing for Penn's performance.

October 21, 2002 Full Review Source: San Diego Metropolitan
San Diego Metropolitan

Woody Allen's fictionalized biography of a legendary American jazz guitarist set in the 1930s.

March 13, 2002 Full Review Source: Spirituality and Practice
Spirituality and Practice

The movie can never muster up the courage to take itself seriously.

February 21, 2002 Full Review Source: Matinee Magazine
Matinee Magazine

It is put together so well you can believe that this human misfit with a terrible taste in tailoring, an insatiable thirst for liquor, an appalling way with women, yet with a guitar in his hand seemingly guided by angels, was a real person.

April 17, 2001 Full Review Source:

A jazz odyssey that works thanks to a stunning lead performance of a fascinating character.

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source:

Affectionate, melancholy and anchored by a well thought-out performance from Sean Penn.

January 1, 2000
TV Guide's Movie Guide

There's a reason why 'sweet' comes before 'lowdown' in the title, and Morton is it.

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source:

Sweet and Lowdown isn't as unfocused or bilious as recent Allen movies, but it's still pretty mundane.

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: Boxoffice Magazine
Boxoffice Magazine

The lowdown? This ain't sweet.

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: E! Online
E! Online

The actual story is so boring and uneventful that it's hard to care about any of this.

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source:

Audience Reviews for Sweet and Lowdown

This breezy mockumentary is Woody Allen's loving tribute to period (1930s) Jazz music.

The fictitious Emmet Ray is considered to be the world's best jazz guitarist, if not guitarist in general, second only to his idol Django Reinhardt. The film follows Ray's career throughout the 30s (with occasional talking head contributions) as he goes from gig to gig lighting the places up. Offstage however, his life is a mess. Before he becomes famous, he makes his living as a small time pimp, and his favorite hobbies are shooting rats and watching trains. He's not savvy with his money, and he's rather temperamental, but, when you can get him settled down, he's quite something.

He's not big on love, feeling that it will ruin his career, but he finds himself drawn to a mute laundress named Hattie, especially when he finds that she loves his music. However, his penchant for infidelity sees him running off and eventually impulsively marrying a high society woman named Blanche. For reasons that I don't want to get into, and seem nutty anyway, things fall apart with Blanche, but there is a bit of redemption and hope here for Ray.

One of the amazing things here is that Ray is basically a shiftless, unlikable asshole, but yet you can't help but kinda feel for him and want to see him get through life okay. The film cooks along quite nicely, but then kinda falls apart at the end with a bit of rushed anti-climax. That aside, this film is pretty solid.

I liked the mockumentary approach with the talking heads, and this also seems like something Allen had wanted to do for a while in general, being a big jazz enthusiast. The period details are terrific, the music is top notch, and the performances are golden.

Sean Penn is terrific as Ray, and he may have done his own playing. Knowing him, he probably did. Uma Thurman is fun as Blanche, but the real treat is Samantha Morton as Hattie. Her performance is amazing. Yeah, it kinda feels like Oscar Bait, but don't tell me that having to play a mute is easy. She excels at having to express herself using just facial expressions and body language, and I loved seeing her channel the silent film era of performance. In various smaller roles we also get some fun turns from Anthony LaPaglia, John Waters, and Brad Garrett.

I really enjoyed this. Had it not petered out towards the end, I'd enjoy it even more. It's a strong film, and achieves a decent balance between comedy and drama. If you love jazz, you should definitely give this a look. Same for those of you who dig on Allen. And anyone who wants a good film about music and musicians might be pleased here as well.
September 10, 2013
Chris Weber

Super Reviewer

For some art is therapy. Allen posits that the reverse also holds water, only not quite with this effort. Sean Penn is Allen's willing doppelganger here (not adopting Allen's much copied persona unlike most), a man afraid to connect emotionally to anyone. Can anyone get through his Maginot Line of defenses to get to the soul within? Pathos, instead of laughs, thereby infuses this supposed casual look at self-imposed solitude.
September 26, 2011

Super Reviewer

Quite delightful. Samantha Morton seriously doesn't need a voice. She has a face!

I'm a little iffy about the mockumentary aspect of this movie. For much of it, I thought Emmet Ray was a real person. Then when I learned he wasn't, I wondered why Woody tried to make the biography seem so real. He doesn't eschew mixing fantasy and reality in his other films, so why create a Django Reinhardt-esque character who worships Django Reinhardt without differentiating between the real and fictional Django Reinhardts (think Tom Baxter and Gil Shepherd in The Purple Rose of Cairo)?

Django Reinhardt.
June 5, 2011

Super Reviewer

My favourite Woody Allen film. Penn is top of his game and I fell in love with Samantha Morton in this movie. Uma Thurman is not annoying either which is nice.
September 29, 2009

Super Reviewer

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Foreign Titles

  • Sweet & Lowdown (DE)
  • Acordes y desacuerdos (ES)
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