Get Low (2009)
Directed by Aaron Schneider
“A touching tale of a hermit’s quest for closure” was how I was going to begin my review of Get Low. I started over, fearing it would seem odd and turn readers away—but upon erasing it, I found myself hard-pressed to find a more fitting one-liner. Directed by relative newcomer Aaron Schneider, who is more familiar behind the camera than in the director’s chair, Get Low presents itself as equal parts drama, comedy, and mystery.
In the backwoods of 1930s Tennessee, hermit Felix Bush (Robert Duvall) resides. In town, everyone thinks they know the man they call “the hermit of Caleb County,” and hate him for things they think he’s done. But Bush has one secret that he’s been holding for 40 years, and as his health deteriorates he devises a plan to make his secret known once and for all. He will hold a funeral party while he remains living. The local funeral home, run by Frank (Bill Murray) and Buddy (Lucas Black), will help him uncover his veil of inscrutability to the town, to his former lover (Sissy Spacek), and ultimately, to movie-goers.
Speaking of things I planned on writing, this paragraph was going to mention that the role of Felix Bush might as well have been written purposely for Robert Duvall. However, upon viewing the special features I discovered that, to an extent, it was. Screenwriter Chris Provenzano (episodes of Mad Men) knew even before starting the dialogue that Duvall was interested in the role, so he wrote the script with him in mind, which helps explains why he pulled it off to perfection.
Duvall is timeless, with his rugged speech and a natural, dramatic hesitation in his voice. He and Spacek (who I recently suggested for an Oscar nomination for a different movie) are the perfect match, and I never knew just how emotional and moving Duvall could be until Felix Bush gave his captivating funeral speech. Jousting with Duvall, Bill Murray is splendid, with incredible wit and charming style.
The enthralling plot is strikingly original, especially in a day where originality is hard to come by (even Edgar Allen Poe commented on the rarity of originality…150 years ago). A hermit who has held a secret for 40 years wants to hold a living funeral party for himself in order to let it all out before he passes away. If there’s an even slightly similar movie, I’ve never heard of it. Plus, there are separate stories involving Buddy’s family and Felix’s former friend and pastor. It’s a wonderfully charming idea.
With little depth of knowledge on set design, costumes, and music in movies, I can’t explain what I like and dislike about these aspects. I can, however, tell you that in this period piece, the folksy banjo and fiddle tunes are catchy, warm, and fun, which matches perfectly the tone of the story…until the drama sets in, which is when the fiddle changes miraculously into its more respected moniker, the violin. The filming location in rural Georgia had to take years to find. It was a perfect setting, from the century-old trees to the small, simple town. The costumes weren’t exaggerated for effect, they were subtle and realistic, representative of what most men and women wore in small-town 1930s Tennessee (not like I would know, I stayed in Ohio in the ‘30s).
Sony Pictures Classics has a reputation for releasing fantastic, underrated films (Moon and The Last Station are just two brilliant examples), and Get Low is just another of these hidden gems. Buying this film on a complete whim was one of the best cinematic choices I have ever made.