Generally favorable reviews - based on 33 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 27 out of 33
  2. Negative: 1 out of 33
  1. Reviewed by: Spencer Abbott
    Allen's deadpan humor shines through every crevice of the film, keeping the pacing sharp, the dialogue snappy, and the situations feeling real.
  2. 90
    A quirky, tender, splendidly acted fable.
  3. 88
    Sean Penn('s) performances are master classes in the art of character development.
  4. Reviewed by: Phoebe Flowers
    Penn's performance is easily the best ever seen in an Allen film.
  5. 88
    (Penn)'s is a lovely, soulful performance in a movie that manages to imbue tragedy with just the right grace note of insouciance -- a movie worthy of Woody Allen himself.
  6. 83
    Amazing as Penn is, Morton is his equal, creating a complete personality out of gestures, glances and unadorned bits of actorly business.
  7. Allen draws a snappy, loose-limbed performance from Penn.
  8. Penn's performance is the movie's ultimate grace note. As funny and ingenious as Allen's films can get, they are rarely known for depth of character.
  9. 80
    It is engaging, touching, and frequently funny. Maybe because his hero is inarticulate and his heroine is mute, Allen relies far more than usual on physical comedy than on the verbal jokes that are his strongest comic suit.
  10. Reviewed by: David Stratton
    The almost wall-to-wall music is glorious, with solo guitarist Howard Alden doing a sock job. Penn, incidentally, utterly convinces in the scenes in which he's seen "playing" the guitar.
  11. Reviewed by: Janet Maslin
    This is one very tuneful labor of love.
  12. 80
    Undeniably pleasant, but British actress Samantha Morton quietly explodes it: Her performance is like nothing I've seen in recent years.
  13. Still about as good as Allen gets, a persuasive, nuanced, and relatively graceful portrait of an egotistical yet talented jazz guitarist of the swing era, astutely played by Sean Penn.
  14. Reviewed by: Richard Corliss
    Samantha Morton, as Emmet's "mute orphan half-wit" of a girlfriend, is the sweet revelation. Rarely has a performer mined such complex and potent emotion from such simple materials: a smile, a shrug, an attentive winsomeness.
  15. 80
    Funny and light, all the more potent for seeming so effortless.
  16. Reviewed by: David Edelstein
    Unexpectedly delectable.
  17. 78
    A literate, sophisticated comedy whose humor and loss and hope linger in our hearts, like the jazz music it reveres, both sweet and lowdown.
  18. Penn hasn't attempted much comedy since "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," but he's masterful here.
  19. The best reason in years to reconsider (Woody Allen).
  20. Exquisitely designed, lovingly executed, beautifully scored and played, every hair and note in place, it's a movie full of irony, passion and bluesy riffs.
  21. Isn't Allen's finest work by a long shot, but an undeniable part of its fascination is trying to figure out what -- if anything, even unconsciously -- he's trying to say about how he treated Farrow.
  22. Reviewed by: David Ansen
    Doesn't add up to any big deal. But it's a likable, lively little ditty -- one theme, some clever variations -- that never wears out its welcome.
  23. It's a loving and comic tribute to a musical era Allen knows well.
  24. A real showcase for Penn, who seems to positively delight in playing a slimy, hateful character that most stars would not go near.
  25. 65
    A vapor trail of a comedy, comfortable as an old chair (and deliciously photographed in shades of melon and banana by Chinese vet Zhao Fei), but ultimately quaint and unchallenging.
  26. Woody Allen's questionable toe-tapping faux-documentary.
  27. Reviewed by: Jay Carr
    Agreeable eye candy and ear candy, but it's too slight to reach as deep as it thinks it wants to reach.
  28. 60
    Affectionate, melancholy and anchored by a well thought-out performance from Sean Penn.
  29. Penn's excellent acting doesn't raise his character above the level of familiar clichés about woman-chasing jazzmen.
  30. Reviewed by: Mike Clark
    It's all very slight and only sporadically amusing, and it makes Allen's "Celebrity" from last year look even more underrated than it already is.
  31. 40
    It's the prettiest movie of the year, maybe of Allen's career.
  32. 40
    But the movie is so confused about where it wants to go, it suffers from the same identity crisis as its protagonist.
  33. 30
    A dud. Neither sweet nor low-down enough by half.
User Score

Universal acclaim- based on 22 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 4 out of 4
  2. Mixed: 0 out of 4
  3. Negative: 0 out of 4
  1. Sep 1, 2011
    A rewarding and satisfying drama, that satirizes biopics while embodying Allen's love for jazz into a great character, brought to life with aA rewarding and satisfying drama, that satirizes biopics while embodying Allen's love for jazz into a great character, brought to life with a terrific performance by Sean Penn. Sweet and Lowdown is Allen's finest dramatic work. Full Review »
  2. PatC.
    Sep 26, 2006
    Once again we see that, when there is a role for a character in an intolerably obnoxious phase of life, Sean Penn is the one to play him. Not Once again we see that, when there is a role for a character in an intolerably obnoxious phase of life, Sean Penn is the one to play him. Not a pleasant or particularly riveting show, but again we see how Woody Allen can bring a photoplay into a sharply focused and breathtakingly concise conclusion - in this case explaining how Penn's character was finally able to become one with his art. So inevitably the movie gets better upon later reflection. Full Review »
  3. steves.
    Jan 9, 2006
    I loved the acting. I loved the music. I loved the aesthetic. I loved the feel. Simply sweet. This is one of my favorite movies ever.