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Sean Penn as a person seems insufferable and often appears that way as a performer too which makes it very difficult to be sympathetic to the characters he plays. In the case of this film I did not have to do that because he plays an awful, nearly irredeemable character who treats the people who care about him thoughtlessly and throws away his one chance at true love. In my view this is the best performance I have seen him give as the character fits him perfectly and in all of his lack of self awareness he is near perfection. A lot of the credit must go to the brilliant Samantha Morton who gives a captivating silent performance and adds a necessary sweetness to a film that is bittersweet and ultimately depressing.
Guitarist Emmett Ray, Sean Penn, is known as the second greatest guitarist in the world during the 1930s and idolized the man considered the greatest Django Reinhardt whom he never wants to meet because he faints in his presence. He is arrogant and spends his money unwisely in addition to not showing up to performances on time which angers his employers who keep him around because he is talented. His life changes when he meets the mute Hattie, Samantha Morton, who is willing to indulge his excesses and accompanies him while he goes on tour. He becomes jealous when she achieves a brief bout of success as a silent film star and abandons her when he impetuously marries the upper class writer Blanche Williams, Uma Thurman. Williams abandons him for gangster Al Torrio, Anthony LaPaglia, and he loses his job but he expects that Hattie will take him back. When she rejects him and he learns through a note that she is happily married with children he is deeply saddened but this despair propelled him to produce his best work.
The best scenes in the film come during the beginning of the courtship between Hattie and Ray with both testing one another and defying the expectations that each hold. In one delightful scene the boorish Ray expects to have to coerce Hattie into bed but is surprised to find that she is more sexually eager than him and finds himself having to ask her to stop removing his clothing. There is a wonder in seeing his face, perennially smug, with an expression of pure shock on it and the secret smile on Hattie's face belies the fact that she is aware of the shortcomings of her partner and is willing to accept them. Later, as they lie in bed together, he tells her about his childhood and we briefly glimpse him willing to be vulnerable while she seems to anticipate this confession and takes on his concerns about life and his own mortality. Obviously he is not intelligent enough to realize that she is the only woman who really loves him and due to his selfish nature and fear of commitment he abandons her for a woman that he does not truly care for.
When the two separate and Ray goes off with his flighty second wife the film becomes less interesting but I understand that we need to see an already self destructive man lose everything and come limping back. The finality of the last scene we see between Hattie and Ray drives home the pain of this doomed relationship but we are happy for the mistreated Hattie as we know that she has found joy and is content in her new life. For her Ray will always be a vibrant memory but for him he will always be aware that he lost someone who could have saved himself from his own self destructive ways. The fake talking heads that appear at random intervals throughout the film inform us that Ray became the greatest guitarist in the world after this event occurred. I suppose that is one of the points that the film makes as an artist has to experience some great trauma or feel intense regret to produce art that will connect with people.
Penn earned perhaps the only Academy Award nomination he deserved for his work in this film and it is a rich performance that is so full of life that you believe that this guitarist must have existed. Morton is also brilliant as she steals scenes from him and even without words she is able to speak multitudes through a few well placed glances and her flashing, narrowed eyes.
One of Woody Allen's very best movies and that is high praise indeed for the greatest filmmaker of the last 50 years. A charming, yet edgy tale which features all of the best Allen trademarks. What sets this apart from most of his other excellent films is the story of the lead character, such an amazing tale it is hard to believe it isn't true. Also the performances from Sean Penn and Samantha Morton are amaong the best I have ever seen.
#woodyallenretro Podcast Project
Charming yet uncomfortable relationship story, good use of combining woodys mockumentary and stellar period music. Great performances as always from lead actors and even uma thurman shines in a smaller role - overall quite enjoyable albeit treading familiar ground for allen... the ending is a bit dry closing a bit dark but it's appreciated - known to be much loved by fans - honestly, has aged fairly well all things considered
Charming movie and absolutely well-acted. The movie is saturated with love for jazz. But it's a quite disappointment when after the film you discover that the main character is fictional.
Sweet and Lowdown lacks Allen's customary sharp dialogues but makes it up for some solid acting from its cast led by Sean Penn.
Pretty engaging story and film. On rewatch it's actually pretty underrated, at least if you want to see a Woody/Penn film, with some Uma.
" You know I'm the best guitarist in the world.... Well you know, except for that gypsy, Django Rainhardt." Sean Penn really nails it as the fictional 1930's jazz guitarist Emmett Ray. A lot of Woody Allen's films have this whimsical jazz score and in this film it really feels like a love letter written to this period in music, there are ample scenes of the band a Sean Penn just playing along with no dialogue. The film is easy and fun to watch. I think I am a closet romantic because I always fall for Allen's subtle study of relationships and love throughout his films. The most compelling one here is that of Emmett Ray and his mute girlfriend Hattie. She doesn't speak a word but there is such chemistry between them, and simple gestures that she makes in her face really pull at the heart strings. A great film for Woody Allen fans and a niche movie for those interested in jazz.
An often overlooked Woody Allen film, "Sweet and Lowdown" may be a tribunal to a fictional musician, but its depiction of the rise and fall of musical stardom is as realistic as the movie is captivating.
A fun and whimsical Woody Allen movie with charming performances from Sean Penn, Samantha Morton, and Uma Thurman. Great costumes, music, and art direction.
Like Zelig before, Woody creates a fictional character, but treats his life's story like a documentary by adding expert interviews to bookend each act. He could have just promoted the greatness of an old jazz player, but instead Emmet is a completely despicable person. He is a boorish, selfish fool that exists as pure id, stealing an ashtray one minute and then casually discarding it the next. Like Inside Llewyn Davis the message is about the luck and ego of genius. We hold creative minds in high regard but even brilliant people can be awful; Love the art, not the artist. Which is what women do. The main throughline of this story is Emmet's romance with a mute girl named Hattie. She can hear the beauty of his guitar, and is too simple to realize how much of an ass he is. She's right for him of course, because both have the emotional maturity of a 12 year old. But as soon as she's good to him, he disappears.
Sean Penn is cartoonish but still superb as Emmett, showing the full range of emotions in this gifted man-child. That being said, it's very difficult to watch a swarthy jerk who is so putrid of a human being knowing that he'll never be redeemed or punished. Woody's nihilism tends to make unlikable people even more unforgivable and in the 3rd act he tells 3 differing versions of an ending to simply make the point how irrelevant an ending is to the story by saying "at least we have the music." Great acting, and well made, and one of the most beautiful soundtracks I've ever heard. Still...a feel-bad movie.