I saved this movie for last among my rentals for the week, cuz I just love the feeling of sitting down to a new Woody picture. They're not all the complete aesthetic high and moviegoing joy I've had with a few, but I can pretty much count of having a great feeling going in---an anticipation of pleasure, and of pleasure just possibly transcendent. (Yeah, it took a little work to be able to set aside the Soon-Yi thing, but I did; I think it helped, actually, to see Wild Man Blues, the documentary about Woody's band touring Europe in which she's travelling with him, which played Salina, of all freakin' places, so there's a good word for the Sunflower State.)
This film was just fine. Well done. Easy to watch and enjoy. It's set in the 30's and tells the story of Emmett Ray, the second-greatest (to Django) jazz guitar player alive. As always w/Woody, I couldn't stop paying attention to the art direction. The interiors are captivating. I love to look at the wallpaper and the furniture and the lights and the props, esp. in the period pieces, and this one was truly rich that way. The costumes were great, too. Beautiful colors all around. People smoking made it look good, as the best smoking in movies does. Even the cars were fun to look at. Sean Penn held up beautifully in the lead; he really can be good, you know? And I have to confess to a rare movie star captivation: this Samantha Morton, in just the best hat, with her winsomely warm twisty smiles----wow. If that hat were on eBay, there's no telling how ridiculously much I'd bid on it, even given my current situation.
Oh I guess I could gripe that Morton's character is mute, but it didn't bother me, so why go there. And there was that annoying conceit of the great white jazz musician going off to jam as the only white guy at the party-central home of musicians of color, where he's loved and always welcome, and Big Mama makes the best chili. But mostly the movie's heart's in the right place.
I have to say---potential SPOILER coming; if you don't wanna know, don't read ANY FURTHER in this paragraph---that this one's got to be the smoothest faux documentary I've ever seen. Now Cheryl Dunye, yes, was both new to filmmaking and on a tight budget when she did Watermelon Woman, and I did like that movie rather a lot, despite its clunkiness here and there (shame she had to go and make that lousy big-Hollywood My Baby's Daddy last year). But Woody has really executed it here. Sincere faux doc., too; no over-the-top parody. Almost palpably loving, in fact, in its fondness for its fictitious subject. And dang if there isn't rather a nice story arc to the pieced-together/conjectural dramatization of fragments of the guy's life story. Did my heart good, fer sure. Plus: not being completely sure whether it was a legit. biopic or not, until the credits for the music leaned me that way and a subsequent check of the summary at IMDb confirmed it, made the experience a good follow-up to the meta-movieness I was talking about yesterday here.
OKAY, SPOILER-FREE AFTER THIS POINT.
The DVD included several trailers I watched after the movie, and the last of those was for Manhattan Murder Mystery, which to this day tickles the heck out of me---both in its plot and its absolutely fab throw-away lines. Some fine players there, too. Felt great to end on that note. Didn't even bother me that I think it's gonna be the last movie I watch from Holly's chair.
Oh, I forgot to mention: there's a cameo in Sweet and Lowdown by none other than our own John Waters. Yes, I guess I'm still a Baltimoron at heart, or at a big part of my heart, anyway, as I'll claim the fella any day and defend his tastelessness loyally whenever need be.
Sweet and Lowdown rating: ****1/2