If you still have doubts about Woody Allen’s unconventionality, watch Sweet And Lowdown. Written and directed by Allen, Sweet And Lowdown came out in 1999. The movie is the story of Emmett Ray, a jazz guitarist, who is renowned as the world’s second best guitarist, second only to his idol, Django Reinhardt. Emmett is obnoxious, boorish, self-obsessed and an alcoholic. He is also a fictional character, but one might be forgiven for assuming him to be a real person. I did. As I watched Sweet And Lowdown, I thought that the movie is a biography on a real person. I learned otherwise only when I googled Emmett Ray.
Allen has shot Sweet And Lowdown in a biographical style. He, along with other actors who appear as musicians, authors, journalists, come out through the movie and talk about the life of Emmett Ray. We’re told that Emmett Ray is heralded as the second best guitarist in the world. We’re shown how success goes to his head, how he ruins relationships with the women in his life, how he lives only for his music, calls himself a free agent who can’t commit to anyone and eventually falls into obscurity. In many ways, Sweet And Lowdown is a satire. It has some nice comic sequences: one is when Emmett wants to make a grand entrance on stage sitting on a moon and the other is when he hides inside the car of his wife’s lover.
Sean Penn plays Emmett Ray, and puts in a remarkable performance. He was nominated for the Best Actor in a Leading Role category at the 2000 Oscars for this role. The film also stars Uma Thurman and Samantha Morton (nominated for the Best Actress in a Supporting Role category at the Oscars).
Sweet And Lowdown is a leisurely-paced movie, rich in content and performances. Watching it under the impression that Emmett Ray was real was enjoyable because I was curious about how Ray ends up. But I don’t think the movie’s charm will go away if you know that Emmett Ray is fictional. Sweet And Lowdown’s charm is in Allen’s storytelling and Penn’s acting. It’s a fictional biography (if there can be something like that) and in this oxymoron lies the beauty of Sweet And Lowdown.
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