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Sweet and Lowdown

Woody Allen's 30th film, Sweet and Lowdown, is in many ways the quintessential Woody film. Almost all of his favorite themes are in place, as well as his most notable flaws. The fictional story is presented as a docudrama about jazz legend Emmett Ray, a guitarist second only in genius to the great Django Reinhardt — a fact which haunts and obsesses the ego-driven artist. He has two notable romantic relationships, one with the devoted, mute Hattie and an ill-fated marriage to a society dame with a jones for bad boys. And that's pretty much the plot. Sean Penn appears to do his best to bring some interest to the role of Emmett, but as written by Allen he isn't given much to work with. Like every character in this film, Emmett is one-dimensional — more a representation of a type than a full-blooded person. Taking biographical bits from the lives of jazz musicians makes sense for a character like this, but what Allen has done is distill the character so much that the end result is little more than an archetype. Emmett Ray is a profligate spender, a hard drinker, and a compulsive thief. When we first encounter him, he's also a pimp. He's incapable of any kind of self-analysis or romantic commitment. But oh, he's a brilliant guitarist, and for that he's forgiven (almost) anything. With some thin characterizations and jazz-like repetitions in the plot, the music is the one high point of Sweet and Lowdown. The soundtrack consists of mostly new recordings of jazz classics in the style of Django, and they are sublime. Rather than renting or buying this movie, here's an alternate suggestion — go get the soundtrack, turn the lights down low, lay back, and just enjoy the music. Good anamorphic transfer (1.85:1), pan-and-scan on the flip side, Dolby Digital 5.1. Trailers, cast-and-crew notes
—Dawn Taylor

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