By Laurie Coker
Oscilloscope’s new film Low Down’s exceptional cast delivers impressively in this cliché ridden, true story of drug addiction and the damage it does. Based on the memoir of Any-Jo Albany, Low Down: Junk, Jazz, and Other Fairy Tales From Childhood, the film follows a young girl though the rabbit hole that is addiction, pulled by the wake of her father. Director Jeff Priess relies heavily on deliberate pacing and grim, smoky sets, more than he should and were it not for stars John Hawkes, Glenn Close and Elle Fanning, Low Down would be just one more tale about an addict musician.
Albany’s (Fanning) father Joe (Hawkes) plays piano and struggles to raise his teenage daughter, make a living and against a horrible heroin habit. The only padding between her father and his habit is her grandmother (Close), who tries her best to protect the girl, but falters because of her love for her own son. Amy-Jo’s mother is a verbally caustic drunk, who is absent most of the time. Amy Jo attempts to have a normal life, even has a boyfriend, who is far from ideal and goes to school, but she sees more than any daughter should.
Fanning’s flawless performance carries Low Down through its clunky, rather sparse and dismal storyline. Hers is a natural gift, and she fills and saves scene after scene. I hurt when Amy-Jo hurt and felt every emotion that this torn teen experiences, because Fanning acts with her whole self. Amy-Jo could not pick her parents and it’s no small wonder she, or any child of addicts, survives. Hawkes morphs seamlessly between doting dad and deadbeat druggie with such unnerving realism that it’s alarming. Together they carry the film, but Close deserves praise for her depiction of Joe’s mother.
Amy Jo’s memoir isn’t much different than others we’ve encountered in this genre and Preiss’s view is hardly original. To his credit, Preiss offers, realistic, grim scenes of scant apartments and dark bars. He captures the essence of the 1970s, sets, clothing, cars, hope, dreams and defeats. But ultimately the story falters in it sameness – held aloft only by excellent, passionate performances and realistic characters. It is all so very bleak and sad, but then so are most films like this one. I am placing a C in my grade book, for the film, not the cast.