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Sweet and Lowdown
 

Sweet and Lowdown is the new Woody Allen movie (Celebrity, Everyone Says I Love You) which, again presents a character which may or may not contain large amounts of autobiography mixed in with healthy doses of what Allen wished his life was. In this case, Allen takes his love for jazz and creates the fictional Emmet Ray, one of the great unknown jazz players earlier in the century. Further blurring the line between fantasy and reality is Allen, director Douglas McGrath, jazz critic Nat Hentoff, and Ben Duncan narrative various anecdotes from Ray's life, which appear as flashbacks.

Emmet Ray (Sean Penn, Hurlyburly, The Thin Red Line) considers himself the second best jazz guitarist in the country after Frenchman Django Reinhardt, his idol. Aside from that small amount of humility, Emmet is full of himself. His ego knows no bounds. He is a self-absorbed musician who lives in the present, with no thought about the future. His playing is magical, but Emmet rarely shows up to perform. Emmet's idea of fun is going to the dump to shoot rats, or watching trains go by. He claims that he can never love because he is a musician, and his true love is music. This changes when he meets Hattie (Samantha Morton, Under the Skin, Dreaming of Joseph Lees), a simple-minded mute laundry girl. Emmet falls hard for Hattie, who is mesmerized with his music. She displays an unwavering devotion to Emmet, despite his obvious failures as a boyfriend. Morton is truly something special. Her complete lack of lines in no way takes away from her spectacular acting job. With Sweet and Lowdown, Morton takes a large step forward, hurdling over many lesser actresses who fail even with excellent scripts in front of them.

Allen once again coaxes good performances out of his actors. Penn completely immerses himself into the shallow Emmet, and looks like he is actually playing the guitar (he isn't). Also good are Uma Thurman (Les Miserables, The Avengers) and Anthony LaPaglia (Looking for Alibrandi, ABC's Murder One). Thurman is a Blanche, a wealthy author who is constantly trying to analyze Emmet. She is the opposite of Hattie, but Emmet falls for her anyway. Emmet and Blanche end up married, and she cheats on Emmet with Al Torrio (LaPaglia). Gretchen Mol (The Thirteenth Floor, Celebrity) is also good, but her character is only on screen a matter of minutes. Sweet and Lowdown is not necessarily a comedy, but there are plenty of funny moments in Allen's script, mainly dealing around Emmet's love of himself. Of course, any mention of the movie would not be complete without arranger Dick Hyman, a perennial Allen favorite. Hyman's arrangements in the film bring the music of yesteryear to life, almost as if they were another character in this amusing movie.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 33 minutes, Rated PG-13 for sexual content and some substance abuse.

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