Sweet and Lowdown

January 26th, 2000


Sweet and Lowdown

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In the 1930s, fictional jazz guitarist Emmet Ray idolizes Django Reinhardt, faces gangsters and falls in love with a mute.

Release Year: 1999

Rating: 7.2/10 (16,868 voted)

Critic's Score: 70/100

Director: Woody Allen

Stars: Sean Penn, Samantha Morton, Woody Allen

A comedic biopic focused on the life of fictional jazz guitarist Emmett Ray. Ray was an irresponsible, free-spending, arrogant, obnoxious, alcohol-abusing, miserable human being, who was also arguably the best guitarist in the world. We follow Ray's life: bouts of getting drunk, his bizzare hobbies of shooting rats and watching passing trains, his dreams of fame and fortune, his strange obsession with the better-known guitarist Django Reinhardt, and of course, playing his beautiful music.

Woody Allen - Himself
Ben Duncan - Himself
Daniel Okrent - A.J. Pickman
Dan Moran - Boss
Tony Darrow - Ben
Chris Bauer - Ace - Pool Player
Sean Penn - Emmet Ray
Constance Shulman - Hazel - Hooker #1
Kellie Overbey - Iris - Hooker #2
Darryl Alan Reed - Don
Marc Damon Johnson - Omer
Ron C. Jones - Alvin (as Ron Cephas Jones)
Steve Bargonetti - Musician Friend
Benjamin Franklin Brown - Musician Friend
James Urbaniak - Harry


Official Website: Sony Pictures Classics |

Release Date: 26 January 2000

Filming Locations: Fresh Pond Rail Yards, Queens, New York City, New York, USA

Box Office Details

Budget: $29,750,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend: $94,686 (USA) (5 December 1999) (3 Screens)

Gross: $4,196,621 (USA) (21 May 2000)

Technical Specs


Did You Know?

Woody Allen pays a clever homage to Federico Fellini's La Strada. The characters of Emmet (Penn) and Hattie (Morton) correspond to Zampano (Quinn) and Gelsomina (Masina) including the final scene with Emmet's/Zampano's breakdown and repentance.

Revealing mistakes: The guitar that Emmett destroys at the end of the movie is (thankfully) not a genuine Selmer Maccaferri. The shattered fragments clearly show a bolt-on neck. The genuine instruments used a bolt during construction, but this bolt was removed before the guitar was completed, leaving an empty hole. (The instrument actually destroyed was a disposable prop created by Michael Dunn.)

Emmet Ray: This is my one day off, I want a talking girl.

User Review


Rating: 9/10

A slow, rich movie. Though it lags in places, the three lead performances are indelibly written in my memory. And the great jazz soundtrack and warm colors made this movie go down like a glass of bourbon.

Embodying the archetypal difficult genius, Emmet Ray is an almost cartoonishly dislikable guy. But Sean Penn keeps him just this side of sympathetic; we loathe his actions, we curse his self-destructiveness, and yet we're compelled to keep watching in the increasingly futile hope he'll turn himself around. His last scenes are heartrending.

As Hattie, Samantha Morton strikes a perfect, almost Chaplinesque, balance of comedy and tragedy. The line separating the two is razor-thin; she dances gracefully upon it. I could say more, but perhaps appropriately, it's difficult to find words that capture the beauty of her silent performance. Half the joy is in watching her reactions naturally unfold anyway.

Like Penn, Uma Thurman portrays a pretty unlikeable character. Her Blanche is overly intellectual, questions incessantly and is in some ways just as emotionally alienated as Emmett. Though her character is grating at first (particularly in contrast to Morton), Thurman does not shrink from the less flattering aspects of her character. It's a brave performance in a thankless role.

Woody Allen has constructed a thoughtful meditation on the nature of artistry. Not on celebrity -- we all know how that film turned out -- but on the rights and responsibilities of the true artist. Emmett, Hattie and Blanche represent the axis of artists, fans and critics respectively. As their relationships play out -- naturally, inexorably and poignantly -- the viewer gets a rare treat: a film that plucks at the mind and at the heart as gracefully as Emmett picking his guitar strings.


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