Woody Allen's fine film celebrates his love of jazz by recalling the troubled life of a forgotten great, Emmet Ray. He was, we are told, the second greatest guitarist after the gypsy, the supreme Django Reinhardt, who electrified the Hot Club de Paris in the 1930s.
Beguilingly, Allen spins a narration, deploys a famous critic, Nat Hentoff, to assess Ray's place in history, and reconstructs episodes from his life, with Sean Penn playing him and accurately miming his fingering to original Ray 1930s recordings.
It's very convincing, but Ray is as fictitious as the title character in another Allen 'mockumentary', "Zelig". It is put together so well you can believe that this human misfit with a terrible taste in tailoring, an insatiable thirst for liquor, an appalling way with women, yet with a guitar in his hand seemingly guided by angels, was a real person. Penn, who has come on well enough to start comparing his dedication to Dustin Hoffman's, brilliantly evokes sympathy for the dysfunctional character.
Samantha Morton is also extraordinary. The British actor has no need to fake an American accent. She plays an adoring mute who suffers. Denied speech, she uses her eyes to convey meaning, reviving techniques of silent cinema.
The other woman in Ray's life is Uma Thurman. She's a slumming socialite who takes him up - "You have genuine crudeness" - and dumps him. He ends in obscurity. Lots of great musicians led terrible lives like this. The 1930s standards, with Howard Alden on guitar, are joyful.