SXSW FILM 2010
By Don Simpson | April 1, 2010
Director: Aaron Schneider
Writers: Chris Provenzano, C. Gaby Mitchell
Starring: Bill Murray, Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Lucas Black, Gerald McRaney, Bill Cobbs, Scott Cooper, Lori Beth Edgeman, Linds Edwards, and Andrea Powell
Get Low – a relatively low-budget period piece set in 1930s Tennessee by first-time director Aaron Schneider – is about Felix Bush (Robert Duvall), an aged reclusive curmudgeon who lives alone in a homestead flanked by 300 acres of dense wilderness. Felix has lived alone for over 30 years. Over the decades the townspeople have told many fantastically scary stories about Felix, and they point and stare at him every time he comes to town; yet bravely curious kids trespass on Felix’s property just to taunt the creepy gun-toting old coot – throwing rocks through his windows and such. Though we can surmise that whatever the townspeople think Felix has done, he is most likely innocent of; we also know that Felix really did do something wrong in his past. This homestead and hermitic lifestyle is Felix’s self-inflicted punishment, his personal prison. Felix is a troubled man with a troubled soul.
When Felix comes to the existential conclusion that he is probably going to die sooner rather than later, he decides to start planning his funeral arrangements (which he wants to pre-pay for). Though Felix once helped build a church, he has no intentions of asking God for forgiveness – which means a church won’t help him with his funeral – so he opts to use Buddy (Lucas Black) and Buddy’s boss, Frank Quinn (Bill Murray), from the local funeral home for his bidding. Felix decides that he wants Buddy and Frank to arrange a “funeral party” (no relation to the song by The Cure) in order for the townspeople to have an opportunity to vent all of their crazy stories about him. The “funeral party” will also give Felix the opportunity to confess his past wrong(s) and ask for the forgiveness of the townspeople.
Along the way, Felix reconnects with an old friend, Mattie (Sissy Spacek) – which allows for some of the more subdued moments of Get Low. Mattie is one of the few people who know anything about Felix’s past, but even she does not know what he did to deserve this life-long sentence of solitude.
Get Low is a beautiful film to look at. The period detail in the costumes, sets and props is absolutely gorgeous – even all of the actors’ accents seem spot on, at least to my naïve ears. And it is difficult to go wrong with three of cinema’s greatest acting powerhouses (Robert Duvall, Bill Murray and Sissy Spacek) – these are actors that can make a mountain of a film out of a molehill. Duvall and Murray master the delivery and tone of their dialogue to make their characters humorous yet endearing and honest – and both of their performances revel in the subtle nuances of their facial expressions (suspicious stares, sly glances, rolling of eyes). Unfortunately the script itself falls flat more often than not – even in these masterful hands – and the plot becomes overtly trite at some moments and tiresome at others. But when the script is strong, Get Low glimpses perfection – though that only makes the flatter moments all the more frustrating.
At its high marks, Get Low is an intriguing tale about the importance of reconciling one’s own guilty conscience – no matter how long the bad deed(s) has been festering in one’s soul. (There is a reason that so many religions focus so keenly on asking God for forgiveness throughout one’s life.) The other lesson we learn from Get Low is that sometimes a self-inflicted punishment is much worse than what any court of law would have dished out.