Based on Amy Jo Albany’s memoir, Low Down explores the life of young girl’s journey from adolescence to adulthood with her heroin addicted, bebop pianist father Joe Albany (John Hawkes) in Los Angeles in the 1970s. The film effortlessly shifts from the urban decay to addiction to the bohemian lifestyle that enveloped much of Hollywood all while keeping its characters close to the lower end of life.
Low Down takes a journey appropriately named. Most of the central figures survive rather than live as they teeter on a seesaw of life that ultimately spirals downward. Elle Fannning turns in a solid performance as daughter Amy who attempts to maintain her life with living with her talented but continually downtrodden, heroin abusing and irresponsible father and occasional visits with her verbally abusive, alcoholic, absentee mother (Lena Headey) Her life rollercoasters by way of surroundings with drug dealers, porn stars, and slew of other unfortunate locals and neighbors.
Moving from dingy basements to garbage strewn streets, Low Down feels real but not excessive. Mostly known for his cinematography work, first time feature director Jeff Preiss captures the grittiness of the Hollywood scene and keeps the flavor in check with a colorful soundtrack filled with much of the original Joe Albany work. Unlike other addiction filled films Low Down offers subtle images that encompass the journey of Joe and Amy. The film fully develops and gives life to the supporting characters including Joe’s mom (Glenn Close) which gives the film that added richness and keeps the film from being just another jazz pianist addiction film.
Low Down represents one of the richer entrees here at the 2014 Sundance film festival. Other films may have more flash but for a first time director, this film offers a lot of heart.