‘Low Down’ fails to find balance in a story of addiction and fame

Alex Pelham

“Low Down,” a biopic about pianist Joe Albany, is a sluggish exploration of the singer’s battle with drugs in 1970s Hollywood. Narrated by his teenage daughter, the story travels through the hectic moments in the singer’s life in an unfocused fashion. Because of an unbalanced narrative and a uninspired script, the overall film offers few emotional moments and a complicated plot that fails to be interesting.

Albany (John Hawkes), once an esteemed musician, is now on probation because of his ongoing heroin addiction and spends his days living off the paychecks of sporadic gigs. He lives with his young daughter, Amy (Elle Fanning), who still sees the best in him despite his past transgressions. Her faith in him begins to fall apart, however, as he starts to give into his temptations. This leaves Amy wondering whether her father will ever heal and rise to his former glory.

The main problem with “Low Down” is that it is unable to focus on both Albany’s addiction and his music career. The plot meanders around carelessly, flitting between the addiction, the family’s relationship, numerous subplots and cringeworthy dialogue. The movie is supposed to be a portrayal of a man who was well regarded as an expert musician, yet the film never shows his accomplishments. The story starts when he had already fallen, making it harder to connect with Albany as he seeks to reclaim his past. 

For a film about a musician, there is little music. Sure, Albany plays the piano in seedy nightclubs in a few scenes, but the majority of the movie reflects on his drug addiction. It’s understandable to hone in on the addiction as the main source of conflict, but it undermines the other characteristics of Albany. Despite being a famous figure with an interesting story, it feels like there’s nothing much to learn about him. The one emotional part of him that sticks is his relationship with his daughter, and that is the only positive element of the story that receives much focus.

Hawkes’ performance as the embattled Albany is admirable. Despite a script that leaves him little room to expand the character, he captures the subtle torture Albany endures trying to juggle a job, his daughter and his temptations. Fanning is decent as Amy, and she as good chemistry with Hawkes. In a cast of forgettable characters who seem to constantly disappear and reappear in the plot, only Peter Dinklage’s minor role as one of Albany’s collaborators stands out.

“Low Down” seeks to portray a talented man’s fall from grace, yet it forgets to show why people should care he was talented in the first place. With a plot that has little focus, along with several subplots and bland characters, the film is a structural mess. The only saving grace is the acting, yet even that can’t save a story that fails to deliver an emotional look at talent and addiction.