Get Low

“I don’t want forgiveness for what I did.”

Hmmm.  That’s how this movie left me.  Just: hmmm.  Rather non-descript and difficult to discern isn’t it.  Well, that’s how this film was.  It left me feeling that way because that’s what the movie was.  It was very non-descript and hard to figure out completely.  I think Get Low might be an attempt at a black comedy, or it could be an attempt to bring descent writing to the table when so much of movies today are focused on explosions.  But I’m not sure.  It has a lot of nuances that lead nowhere, a lot of potential story direction to choose from, but the film never seems to decide.  It seems to me as if the film is bait for fish (the audience).  But it’s the kind of bait used in fly fishing.  The bait keeps running away from the fish so that only a few fish can grasp onto the little mock-fly lure.  Let’s just say that I was one of the fish who bit onto the lure, but then spit it out without the hook really taking hold.  To be honest, Get Low is a descent movie.  It has appropriate doses of humor and a rather intriguing story line.  It’s got great actors and descent writing, but for some reason it’s not executed very well.  It’s an attempt at a great movie, but never seems to get off the ground.  It also falls into an area of heavy-handedness that doesn’t do it any good at all.

            Felix Bush (Robert Duvall) is an enigmatic hermit who lives on the outskirts of a small mid-western town in the 1930s or ‘40s.  He has a bit of a reputation that may or may not be true.  The townspeople don’t like him, and they stay away because of the legends and stories they’ve heard.  He’s a stranger in a familiar land, and an odd one at that.  He talks to his mule all day, often sleeps in his barn, and keeps a picture of a mysterious young woman on the wall of his little shack.  He doesn’t like visitors in the least, and often points his gun at people arrogant enough to pass his self-made sign that reads: No DAMN trespassing .  .  .  Beware of the mule.  At one point, he decides that it’s about time to “get low”, or down to business about his inevitable passing.  So off he goes to the Quinn Funeral Home, run by a Mr.  Frank Quinn (Bill Murray) who has become a sardonic, rather desperate businessman due to the lack of deaths in the town.  But Quinn is overjoyed when Bush shows up asking if the home would help him organize his own funeral PARTY!  But that’s not the punch line.  The punch line is that he wants to have the party while he is alive.  And anyone who has a story to tell about him is invited.  So the rather naïve in-training funeral salesman (Lucas Black) is given most of the responsibility.  But once Duvall’s plans begin to look like a reality, a woman from his past (Sissy Spacek) shows up and begins to force the town to find out more about Bush’s enigmatic history.

            Now by far the best performance in this movie is neither found in Duval or Spacek (looking just as lovely in her aging persona) but in Bill Murray.  He also provides most of the comic relief in the film with often dark, morbid, or untactful statements about the crazy scenario unfolding before him.  Lucas Black is unfortunately quite wooden and unemotional in his portrayal as the up-and-coming funeral protégé.  Duvall and Spacek are good, of course, but both have done better.  This film should have been a seriocomic film about an eccentric old hermit who wishes to have one last hurrah before his death, but about mid-way through it becomes very serious and heavy-handed.  Here is an instance where the old proverb, “Less is more,” should have been used.  The more plot we are given to work with, and the deeper we delve into Bush’s mysterious past, the more off-putting this film becomes.  Not that it becomes offensive, or that we start to dislike it, but we start to lose interest in it.  We start to let our eyes wander around the theatre and we begin to realize that we are bored.  But overall it’s a good picture.

            Probably all I can say is that it had great potential, but went the wrong way.  Its saving grace is Bill Murray.  Again I say that he is the soul of the movie.  He’s perfect.  It’s sort of a Harold-ish role that requires a special taste in humor.  But Murray is a genuinely good actor, despite the fact that all he really does is comedy.  His witty, yet meaningful remarks throughout the film are great fun and relief, especially after a the middle when the movie becomes less light-hearted and mocking.  Murray has a bamboozling presence that lives throughout the film and makes it breath.  He’s a breath of fresh air.  He can make the audience laugh with just a glance or a nod of his head.  He’s also the only character that really goes on a journey in the film.  While we learn more about Duvall and Spacek, they never actually change.  More is just revealed about them.  Murray instead goes from a skeptical, unethical salesman to a truly compassionate and endearing friend to Mr.  Bush.  Maybe some people will think Murray is too much or miscast in the film, but I think he’s just what the film needs to save it from becoming a stagnant pool of heavy, depressing air.  The performance is subtle, and easy to miss, but it’s rich and genuine and true.

            What really should have happened in the entirety of the movie happens in the first half.  If they could have drawn that out, I would have given it a higher than average rating.  Duval and his plan for a funeral party set up many punch-lines that should come in later in the film, but these are never resolved.  Nothing becomes of them.  His original idea is to have people tell stories about him.  But all we get to see at the party is him telling his own story.  The reason why he has quarantined himself from society.  His deep, dark secret.  But the secret is so ordinary and predictable that we can hardly be drawn into it or feel emotion as it unfolds before our eyes.  Not that I think his secret is immaterial, but I think that we deserve a better pay-off for our ten dollars.  The first half of the movie should have been preparation for the party, and the second half should have been the party itself.  Instead the party is reduced to about ten minutes of film time that mean absolutely nothing to us after it’s over. 

But enough of the whining from me.  It is really a descent movie, with a good heart and a strong centre.  Although it goes in the wrong direction, it is genuinely a good film, and I recommend it.  It has many flaws, but none that are entirely unforgivable.  It also has several virtues that keep it from becoming too melodramatic or heavy, and the final product is a well-rounded but flawed film that could have been great.  So I do recommend it simply because of its liberal doses of virtues, and I say go and see it.  But don’t go in expecting too much, or you’ll be disappointed.  Ultimately it’s forgettable, but worth the effort.  Who knows!  Maybe you’ll like it better than I did.  My review is like Switzerland: neutral and indifferent.

Sony Pictures Classics Presents a film by Aaron Schneider

Cast: Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Bill Murray, Lucas Black, Gerald McRaney, Bill Cobbs, Scott Cooper, Chandler Riggs. Directed by Aaron Schneider

Rated PG-13 for some thematic material and brief violent content.  Release Date: 06 August 2010

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