Woody Allen’s faux-reality-based story about 1930s jazz guitarist Emmet Ray, complete with “experts” discussing the details of his fictitious life, is an enjoyable, insignificant little comedy with an almost hauntingly dark undertone to it.
“Sweet and Lowdown” aspires to nothing more than making you smile, occasionally laugh out loud, and maybe recommend it to a friend.
Sean Penn plays Emmet Ray, the second-best jazz guitarist in the world, after Django Reinhardt (though some critics say Emmet’s the best, a fact which he points out whenever possible). Much is made by other characters of Emmet colossal ego, but it’s actually quite a bit more complicated than that. He’s always telling people what a great artist he is, but he usually seems more sweet and gently pitiable than arrogant.
This is a man whose idea of fun is going to the dump to shoot rats with a pistol. He takes dates there, in fact. He’s fond of stealing small items for no reason, too. He’s a man who enjoys drinking and having sex, which causes no small amount of conflict with the people who pay him to perform in their nightclubs and would like it if he’d show up on time and sober.
Most of all, Emmet loves his music. He really is a great guitarist, and if he supresses his feelings in real life, it’s only so they can come out all the sweeter in his playing.
He falls in love with Hattie (Samantha Morton), a mute girl who innocently falls for him, too. Morton makes more of her non-speaking character than many have done in speaking a thousand lines, perfectly conveying the sadness inherent in loving someone who loves his art more than he loves you.
Penn is quite endearing as Emmet Ray, too. Though not often considered a comic actor these days, Penn displays great energy and conviction in his performance, making Emmet far more likable than he might have been otherwise.
Emmet’s ups and downs, tragedies and triumphs, are shown in a breezy 90-some minutes. The point? Don’t look for one. It’s amusing, and it has a great old jazz soundtrack. What more do you want?
B+ (; )