I tend to over-read reviews for films before I go to see, primarily because it now costs the Husband & me a whopping $18 to go to a matinee, & then it is all compounded by my frustration with other moviegoers talking or using their cell phones. In 2007, I had so many bad experiences at live events, that I stopped going to movies, plays & concerts for 2 years. But with temps in the high 90s, I came up with a plan to drive in my air-conditioned automobile to attend a mid- afternoon film in a dark air-conditioned theatre, followed by happy hour in a dark windowless air-conditioned bar. & as social director I thought that the entire diversion would be fun to share with our fun new friends- Peter & Nancy.
I just never know when I am going to be gobsmacked by a really excellent & moving film. This movie was my choice for our group to see, & I didn’t know anything more than the cast: Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, & Bill Murray. I was blindsided by Aaron Schneider's Get Low, an excellent little dramatic piece, washed in humanity, warmth, insight, & wit.
For most movie goers, Robert Duvall is either Tom Hagen from The Godfather & The Godfather: Part 2, or he is that rascally character actor who is always the best thing in. Duvall has been a fascinating actor for me to watch since I first saw him in MASH in 1970 (I didn’t see his film debut in To Kill A Mockingbird until 2002). A perfect actor for the medium, he never overacts, he never steals moments from his fellow actors, he's always a welcome sight, & he's practically always the best thing in each film he does., & there is more to love about Get Low than just another Oscar worth Robert Duvall performance.
I knew just enough to have my interest piqued, & then this quiet little movie just grabbed me & grabbed me hard. Get Low is low key, sincere, & satisfyingly confident in the way it tells this tale of small town, but compelling people.
The film is based on a true story about a miserable old hermit who has lived in an isolated cabin for 40 years. “No Damn Trespassing, Beware of Mule!" warns the hand carved sign posted near the cabin of Tennessee hermit Felix Bush (Duvall), whose abrupt decision to enter back into the world moves Get Low. Felix, who's been in a self-imposed exile for 40 years ("the first 38 are the hardest") decides to throw himself a "living funeral party" so he can hear what people have to say about him. Ads will be posted, his multi-acred wooded property will be raffled, & people from 4 counties are invited to attend. To organize everything, Felix hires Frank Quinn (Bill Murray), the nearby town's fiscally stressed funeral director ("What do you do when people won't die?"), & his idealistic, warm hearted young assistant, Buddy (Lucas Black).
Director Aaron Schneider & his screenwriters place the story in late1930s Tennessee, & his attention to period detail is jaw dropping impressive. the film beautiful to look at, but the director- Aaaron Schneider, making his feature debut after winning a short-film Oscar in 2003, also has a canny sense of timing, whether he's focusing on a slight Bill Murray eye-roll or a plot divergence we didn't see coming. The film allows for both quick, sly moments of humor & longer, quieter moments like when Duvall & Spacek share a bittersweet reunion.
It wouldn't be fair to reveal the details of Felix's dark past, except to say that it involves a beautiful woman who died in a fire he may or may not have had a hand in setting. Near the end of the film, at the funeral party, after nearly chickening out, he stands atop a wooden stage & makes his confession into a microphone in front of 100s strangers. Duvall delivers this speech with a virtuoso range of vocal tics, from nervously gulped words to a sudden bark of sound that's half laugh, half scream. It's deeply felt work.
Chris Provenzano & C. Gaby Mitchell's screenplay has a melancholy streak running through it that is really right for the film's Depression era setting & for Felix's heavy dilemma, but the script is also filled with little drops of sly humor. When Buddy, the funeral home assistant, describes to his boss the "wad" of money he saw in Felix's hand, Frank says, "Oooh, hermit money. That's good." The gleeful delivery is vintage Bill Murray, but the lovely thing is that Murray is not trying to sell a joke; he's simply being his character- Frank Quinn. It's a classic & Oscar worthy performance.
Duvall & Spacek have never been in a movie together, but their acting styles are so similar that it feels as if they have a long onscreen history. They have several key scenes together in Get Low, including my favorite with the 2 characters walking together down a wooded road. Nothing much happens; they talk & laugh, & their bodies sway back & forth toward each other, like young lovers courting. After a time, Felix offers Mattie his arm, & she takes it, with a firm, happy grip. 2 characters, 2 actors, at ease, in joy, delighting in each other.
Get Low is another showcase for Duvall’s considerable talent, & the film is a heartfelt & insightful story about pain, guilt, loss & loneliness, & how, if we're lucky, it's never too late to earn a little friendship & forgiveness.