Sweet and Lowdown

SWEET & LOWDOWN. 1999

Director: Woody Allen

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl



Paying to see a Woody Allen film has alas become like voting that it's okay to fuck your daughter. Anyone sitting in the audience of one of his films is all but saying it's okay if he fucks his daughter too. Roman Polanski is more forgiveable, as first of all he didn't raise a child up as a father figure before he started porking one of the kids, & second of all he's been punished with exile, so I can feel an iota of pity for Roman & still wholly appreciate his films. But Woody is an Evil Father powerful enough in his Manhattan citadel to have his way without effective censure.

Woody's perverted interest in minors is obvious in several of his films, from Manhattan (1979) with a teenage Mariel Hemmingway playing the love-object of a repellant self-important geezer, to his tendency to cast even adult actresses like Mia Farrow & Christina Ricci for an adolescent quality with which to play childlike women.

Knowing it is not just in the films but in his life's practice too, I am just made queazy by his films, most especially when he is in them. Even an innocuously brilliant film like Zelig (1983), it's simply no longer possible to be re-emerged in it without the weight of its star's unhealthy interest in children popping to mind.

So I cannot bring myself to spring ten bucks plus the price of popcorn to see a child molestor's film on the big screen. But I hate to deny myself a good performance by the likes of Sean Penn, so I do still catch his newer works as cheap rentals or for free, to limit how much of my income gets transferred to Woody's income. And it does seem that I would not be missing much to skip his films altogether, as he pretty much peaked in the early & mid 1980s with films like Zelig, Broadway Danny Rose (1984), & The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985). He ceased to be one of America's true art directors by the time he reached the execreble Radio Days (1987).

The one exceptional film in the last twenty years is Sweet & Lowdown (1999), which he followed by such minor piffles as Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001), & Anything Else (2003), just in case anyone mistook one good film as indicating Woody was back.

Sweet & Low has the right star for the right story, as Sean Penn's acting genius finds in this script material worthy of him. Woody's sincere affection for the period jazz world permitted him to recapture, if only for this one moment, his otherwise lost greatness. Masterpiece would be saying too much of it, but in that smaller class of mocumentaries per se, it is heads above the majority.

Sean Penn is Emmet Ray, subject of this fictional biography, & an alcoholic greaseball mustachioed scumbag who regards himself as the second-best jazz guitarist in all the world, after his god, Django Reinhardt. His hobbies are getting drunk, shooting rats, watching trains, & destroying his relationship with one of Woody's ideals of the perfect woman, one who adores genius even when it belongs to an asshole, & who is completely mute (a character charged with more depth by Samantha Gordon than could possibly have been in a script that provides no dialogue).

So many great performances are egoless, & Sean Penn is not afraid to become a man who is misguided, selfish, creepy & obnoxious. Sean the actor even drums up sympathy for Emmett the very unsympathetic hero, for under all the seediness & empty bravado, Emmet is a man doomed by imperfections that more than outweigh his talent. He is self-sabotaging & pitiful, yet when we see him sitting with his guitar, pursing his lips under his slime-mold mustache, his loose slacks wobbling as he recreates that Reinhardt sound, Emmet becomes beautiful.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl



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