By Robert Sims, Special to TheMovieKit.com
Step 1: Don’t get Low. Aaron Schneider’s remarkable directorial debut is a beautifully told Southern folk tale of hope and redemption that never fails to amuse or inspire. It also features such fortifying performances by Robert Duvall and Bill Murray that you hope to hear their names called when next year’s Oscar nominations are announced.
Step 2: Look past the gimmicky premise. Set in 1930s Tennessee, this dramedy stars Duvall as a grumpy old hermit who makes his first trip to town after 40 years in seclusion. Feeling his mortality, Duvall’s Felix Bush wants to make his funeral arrangement. Only he wants his funeral party to be held while he’s alive. And he wants everyone in town to attend—not because he wants to say his goodbyes, but because he wants to hear every out-there story they have about him, whether they’re true or not. There’s much more to Get Low than watching funeral director Frank Quinn (Murray) and his associate Buddy (Friday Night Lights’ Lucas Black) tear out their hair trying to accommodate Felix’s odd request. Felix harbors a dark secret, one that Schneider reveals in riveting fashion. This lends Get Low an air of mystery that grips you until Felix pours out his heart and soul to more strangers than you can count.
Step 3: Enjoy being in the company of Duvall and Murray. Get Low makes you wonder why Duvall and Murray have waited so long to work together. You never quite know what’s going to happen when the two walk into the same the room. Initially looking like Grizzly Adams on a bad hair day, Duvall masterfully command your attention with a cantankerousness that allows Felix to conceal the pain that’s left him emotionally crippled for four decades. Murray, on the other hand, uses his dry wit as a mechanism to gradually humanize Duvall’s social misfit. Sure, Frank’s happy to make a buck, but Murray thankfully avoids making him just another oily salesman. He imbues Frank with a sense of decency that’s easy to admire and respect. Duvall and Murray feed off each so well that it’s a joy to watch these old pros verbally spar. If Black seems very quiet in comparison, that’s because his job is to serve as our eyes and ears. Sissy Spacek, as a widower who was once involved with Felix, beings additional pathos to the proceedings.
Step 4: RSVP for the funeral party of the year. Much of the fun to be found in Get Low comes from watching Felix reintegrate himself into a society that once regarded him with hatred and suspicion. Schneider employs the gentle humor that surrounds the funeral party arrangements to transform Felix in our eyes from an object of ridicule to a victim of his own tragic circumstances. But by design, the funeral party itself is less a celebration of a misunderstood man’s life but an excuse to clear a conscience before God and all others present.
Level of difficulty in watching Get Low: Nothing could be finer than watching Duvall and Murray at their very best. More important, Schneider shows such great promise with Get Low that you can’t wait to see what he will do next.