"Low Down" (2014 release; 120 min.) brings the true story of famed jazz pianist Joe Albany's struggle with drugs, as see through the eyes of his 13 yr. old daughter Amy-Jo (or A.J.) Albany. As the movie opens, we are reminded that it is "Hollywood, 1974", as we say Amy-Jo (played by Elle Fanning) looking through magazines, waiting on her dad's return home. Amy-Jo loves watching him practice and play. Soon we learn that Joe (played by Jphn Hawkes) is in trouble for having broken his parole, and he is taken back in by cops. Amy-Jo moves in with her Gram (played by Glenn Close). To tell you more would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: first, please note that this is not a biopic of Joe Albany, but instead a look at a very specific phase in Amy-Jo's life when she was 13 through 15, which happens to coincide with Joe's never-ending battle with heroin. In fact, the book is based on Amy-Jo's memoir and she is credited as having co-written the script for the movie. Second, this is not particularly a feel-good movie, far from it, as these characters are living in less than glamorous conditions, and they are surrounded by low-lives. Third, the movie is set in the mid-70s and does a great job bringing that era to life with lots of audio and video clips that play on the TV. Less charming is the incessant smoking of cigarettes, I mean I don't think there is a single scene in the movie where someone isn't smoking. Fourth, as you can well imagine, this type of material tends to bring out great acting performances, and that is certainly the case here. Elle Fanning who was 15 when this movie was shot, is outstanding as the adoring daughter who realizes that her dad is in serious trouble. John Hawkes, best known for his roles in Winter's Bone and The Sessions, brings a heartfelt performance as the pained jazz pianist. At one point, when Gram talks to A.J about dreaming of a better future, Joe shrugs "Mine is a life of wasted dreams", wow. And what can you say about Glenn Close as the pianist's mother (A.J.'s grandmother), I was simply blown away. Check out also Flea (of Red Hot Chili Peppers) in a smaller role. I was quite surprised when the end titles rolled to see that both Flea and Anthony Kudis of the Peppers executive-produced the movie. Good for them! Last but not least, music, and jazz music in particular plays a huge role in the movie so if you don't care much for it, you may want to stay away. There are other song placements, including David Bowie's "Golden Years".
"Low Down" opened this weekend out of nowhere without any pre-release buzz or advertising at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati. I figured this would not play very long so I want to see it this weekend. The screening I saw this at Sunday late afternoon turned out to be a private affair, as in: I was literally the only person in the theater. That's a shame. Maybe this movie will find a larger audience when it is released on DVD. If you have a chance to check out "Low Down", realizing this is not a movie you'll walk out thinking "this was a jolly good time", I'd readily recommend that you do so, be it in the theater, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray.