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. Written by
Martin Lewison <email@example.com>
The guitar that 'Sean Penn' plays in the movie is a Selmer Maccaferri of about 1932 (though it seems likely that it's a reproduction of the rare instrument and not an original) This is the same kind of guitar played and made famous by Django Reinhardt. See more »
During the Hollywood sequence, Emmet's band is backing a black vocalist. In the 1930s, musicians on film were, with extremely rare exceptions (e.g., Benny Goodman's quartet), strictly segregated. There's no way a white band would be playing behind a black woman. See more »
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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