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Film / Sweet and Lowdown

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Sweet and Lowdown is a 1999 American comedy-drama film written and directed by Woody Allen.

Set in The Great Depression, the film tells the story of jazz guitarist Emmet Ray (played by Sean Penn) who regards himself as the second greatest guitarist in the world (after jazz icon Django Reinhardt). Though a talented musician, Ray's personal life is a shambles: He is a spender and a womanizer who believes that falling in love will ruin his musical career. Due to his heavy drinking, he's often late or even absent for performances with his quintet. He meets a shy mute woman, Hattie (Academy Award nominated Samantha Morton) and, after overcoming some initial frustration due to the difficulties of communication, they form an affectionate and close relationship, but Ray's whims make the bliss short-lived. The film also stars Uma Thurman as Blanche, a socialite.

Like one of Allen's previous works, Zelig, Sweet and Lowdown is occasionally interrupted by interviews with critics and biographers like Allen, Nat Hentoff, and Douglas McGrath, who comment on the film's plot as if the characters were real-life people.

Sweet and Lowdown contains examples of:

  • Always Second Best: Emmet Ray is regarded as the second greatest jazz guitarist in the world (after Django Reinhardt).
  • Ascended Fanboy: Ray actually agrees with that, as Reinhardt is his idol.
  • As Himself: Famous personalities comment on Emmet Ray as if he was a real-life person, such as Allen, Nat Hentoff, Douglas McGrath, and so on.
  • Cute Mute: Hattie is mute and somewhat passive, seemingly happy to be led around by the more dominant and talkative Emmet Ray. When she does try to communicate a specific thought, it's often only Emmet who gets to understand it fully.
  • Direct Line to the Author: The plot is presented as if it were real events, and Allen is simply just one of the experts on the work of Emmet Ray.
  • Kavorka Man: Emmet Ray is a spender, ill-tempered, heavy-drinking, slightly haggard-looking man who is somehow also a womanizer who manages to get with Cute Mute Hattie and a socialite played by Uma Thurman.
  • Mockumentary: The film is occasionally interrupted by documentary-like interviews with supposed critics and biographers of Emmet Ray, that present the fictional events of the film as if they actually happened in real life.
  • Rail Enthusiast: Emmet Ray has trainspotting as one of his alienating personality quirks.
  • "Rashomon"-Style: Because so much of Emmet Ray's life is shrouded in legend, we see and hear many different versions of various events in his life.
  • Sticky Fingers: Emmet Ray appears to be an easily diagnosible kleptomaniac. After he's shown pocketing a hotel ashtray, one of the supposed biographers mention Emmet once stole another musician's alarm clock.
  • Too Qualified to Apply: Emmet enters a small-town talent contest while driving cross country. He effortlessly wins, being lauded as the second best guitarist after Django Reinhardt, and is run out of town when his identity is revealed.