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"Low Down" delves deep in cinematic excellence

1970s biopic illustrates sentimental, dark picture of humanity


Director Jeff Preiss’ first biopic “Low Down,” a film based on the life of jazz pianist Joe Albany (played by John Hawkes), was featured in the Virginia Film Festival Friday, bringing together a promising cast and a compelling foundation deeply rooted in the rich jazz culture of the 1970s.

Albany’s complex relationship with daughter Amy (Elle Fanning) and his struggles with drug abuse are relayed through the latter character’s perspective. Lingering on the edge of a complicated adult world, Amy alternates between acting as only child and head of the household. In one scene, Amy — rendered out of place with her platinum hair glowing in a hazy bar — sits in a grimy booth surrounded by adults while her father performs. In another, she supports her drunken mother (Lena Headey) — in a rare scene together — as she staggers through the streets.

Almost fairytale-like in its nostalgia of the 1970s jazz scene, the film mirrors the ambivalent complexity of the music pervading the film’s duration and subject matter. Dynamically multifaceted and erratically tumultuous, the film captures the wistful ambiance of the period, reviving humble pizza parlors as performance venues and the characteristically bohemian style of life.

The film features several poignant, well-developed relationships, but the focus remains on the complicated love between father and daughter. Fanning’s tender performance is painfully poignant, her unwavering love for her imperfect father is childlike in its persistence. The icy relationship she maintains with her negligent, alcoholic mother and the loving bond she holds with her grandmother are equally moving.

Light on dialogue, “Low Down” often fails to delve below the murky surface. The film occasionally cripples itself, becoming a bit too reliant on Amy’s narration. Joltingly pausing the current action for Amy’s summarizing voiceovers, the film allows the narration to speak a bit too much. These abrupt pauses rudely break from the otherwise graceful flow of the film, a poor stylistic move which makes for transitions more awkward than effective. These narrations look to hastily tie up a tangled tale which cannot and should not be placed into a neat package.

With an honest eye, the film explores the ubiquitous trope of artist and addiction. It’s worth noting that while Amy shows her father’s ongoing struggle with heroin, she illustrates little correlation between artistry and his drug use.

Ultimately, “Low Down” is a beautifully dreamy portrait of a struggling artist and his loving daughter who remains his most devoted fan. Both dark and sentimental, the film relays a starkly human portrayal of an imperfect family, turning a complicated childhood into a cinematic gem. 


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