Saturday, April 24, 2010

1999 - SWEET AND LOWDOWN, is about a jazz musician but it's really about Woody Allen vs. Sean Penn

Woody Allen started to disconnect with his audience in the 1990's.  Allen is a funny guy but his humor had always been for a fairly specialized crowd.  As he drifted into drama he seemed to lose touch with the humorous side of his personality.  He can still put together technically funny scenes, but it now seems like he is mostly goes through the motions.

Woody Allen's dialog has a certain cadence to it which he expects the actors to perform in a certain way.  This ends up with the actors in his films frequently sounding like Woody Allen, with his halting neurotic vocal delivery.  This was most evident in Celebrity where Kenneth Branagh completely parroted Woody Allen's acting style to a ridiculous degree.

Sean Penn is to strong an actor to play Allen's game and he takes the character of a jazz guitarist who happens to be a real jerk and makes it his own.  Penn does the best job possible with the disappointing dialog and situations in this film and he is the only reason to watch Sweet and Lowdown.

Incredibly, the actor Samantha Morton won an Academy Award for her portrayal of the Chaplin like mute girlfriend who sticks with him through his ups and down.  An "oh come on" acting job.

Sweet and Lowdown is as close as anyone will get to Woody Allen's explanation of his less than sterling personal behavior.  The jazz guitarist Emmet Ray is portrayed throughout the film as a brilliant musician and artist and this seems to be the justification and excuse for his mistreatment of the devoted mute girl and the people he works for.

Sweet and Lowdown never really has much of a story and just completely peters out towards the end. The film does have excellent photography and production design, Woody Allen films always look great.

The film's very unsatisfying conclusion has Emmet Ray recording a series of "brilliant pieces of music" and then vanishing from the public.  Another Woody Allen wish fullfillment?

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