Ever since Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer hid in the rafters and watched their own funeral the idea of seeing how people would react to my death has appealed to me. But while Robert Duvall’s character in Get Low wants to plan a funeral he can attend, his motives are very different.
Duvall is Old Man Bush, a crazy hermit who has lived outside of a small Southern town for 40 years. The local kids sneak onto his property to prove their bravery and the townsfolk have spent decades making up all manner of crazy stories about the bedraggled old man living all on his own since long before there were automobiles. But spurred on by the death of an old friend, Bush heads into town looking to spend his big greasy wad of hermit cash on his own funeral.
When the local preacher turns Bush down – he sees that Bush is looking to buy not a funeral but his own form of forgiveness – the old man ends up hiring the town’s funeral director, who is on the verge of going bankrupt. Desperate for cash Bill Murray’s Frank Quinn agrees to the unorthodox idea, even though his up and coming assistant, played by Lucas Black, isn’t entirely sure. It slowly becomes obvious that Bush is harboring a great secret, which explains both why he’s been a hermit and why he needs this funeral party.
Get Low is the first film from Aaron Schneider, who has done lots of work as a cinemtographer on TV (he shot the Supernatural pilot!); it’s a gentle film that’s alternately funny and sweet, but it felt fairly light to me. The script by Chris Provenzano and C Gaby Mitchell (from a story by Provenzano and Scott Seeke, inspired by a true event) is nicely nuanced and focuses on small character moments, but it’s also obvious – the end of the movie is clear about fifteen minutes in, it’s just the details that come to light during the course of the story. That said, the script allows us to find details without shoving our noses in it – the discovery that Bush’s best friend is a black preacher who he met after the events that set him on his hermit course tells us so much about how low he was at the time (remember, the movie takes place in the early years of the 20th century, so Bush made friends with a black man at the end of the 1800s) without anyone having to tell us how low he was.
What Get Low is really about, though, is Duvall’s performance. One of our greatest living actors, Duvall is wonderful in the role, bringing layers of depth to this wounded woodsman. He gives a speech at the end that on its own is worth the film’s entire runtime; thankfully the rest of the movie is enjoyable and often gorgeous to look at.
Bill Murray gives the other great performance; Quinn gets a very subtle character arc that is rewarding in its own quiet way. Murray gets to be very funny when the time comes, but he’s also able to invest Quinn with an inner life without ever getting any big scenes or speeches. Murray’s face, still hangdog but now cratered and craggy and sandblasted, can get across so much with just a glimpse or a raised eyebrow that one brief scene between he and Sissy Spacek speaks what 100 pages of monologue couldn’t.
I enjoyed Get Low, and the film’s theme of confession is moving, but I wish these two actors had something a little bigger upon which to hang their performances. Or maybe that’s why these performances work so well, because they’re allowed to breathe in a story without overwhelming melodrama or neatly pigeonholed moments (although the movie does tie itself up a little too tidily). Get Low is a movie to savor for the exceptional performances, one from an actor who is in the final years of his career and the other from an actor who really feels like he’s at the height of his powers.
8 out 10