“Get Low” is one of those “niche” movies that feature a cast
warmly embraced by the aging Baby Boomers such as yours truly:
Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, Sissy Spacek.
How could it go wrong?
Well, it doesn’t really go wrong, exactly, it’s just so
intentionally understated that it feels like underachieving.
This is a very old-fashioned drama, set in a bygone time and era.
This film could have been made 70 years ago, or it could even be a
play. It’s that stagey, which
is both its great strength and its fatal flaw.
Robert Duvall plays Felix Bush, an old recluse-hermit who’s lived
alone all his life, just sitting on his property in the boondocks, and
avoiding all contact with the townsfolk, who understandably think he’s
crazy. But after a lifetime of
being the local weirdo, Felix Bush decides that he’s ready to come out of
the log cabin in the woods and relate to folks.
Except he doesn’t know how, and neither do they.
Meanwhile, Frank Quinn (Bill Murray), the Undertaker, is suffering
from a depressing lack of business. He
wonders plaintively why it is that no one will die.
He’s desperate for something constructive to do.
So when Felix Bush decides he wants to have his funeral celebration
now, while he’s still alive, and invite the whole town to tell stories
about him so he can listen, Mr. Quinn is only too happy to oblige him his
strange request. Little did
they both know how prophetic it would be, that Mr. Bush was, indeed, not
long for this world. But he’d
managed to draw a big crowd to his “live funeral” celebration, by
promising a lottery ticket for a drawing held at the conclusion of the
party, where the lucky winner would inherit all of Mr. Bush’s property.
That caused the whole town to come out; though, when the time
arrived, Mr. Bush decided he didn’t want them to tell stories about him,
he wanted to tell them a story about himself.
It’s a tale of concupiscence, fiery remorse, and burning regret,
and everyone listens in stunned silence.
It’s kind of Mark Twain-ish for Mr. Bush to get a kick out of
seeing who’s going to come to his funeral (wasn’t that a story in “The
Adventures of Tom Sawyer”?). But
in the end, it’s a sad tale about lost loves and wasted lives.
We wish that Sissy Spacek’s part could have been meatier.
We enjoy the repartee between Murray and Duvall, but often there was
a younger man, the undertaker’s assistant, who was an intermediary between
them, effectively triangulating whatever relational energy the two veteran,
decorated actors may have achieved together.
“Get Low” is slang for “getting down to business,” and it
takes a while for this film to do that.
We viewers have to be content with the quiet wind whistling through
the pine trees, the quiet desperation of self-inflicted solitude, and the
quiet triumph of forgiveness and redemption over guilt and regret.
It just takes us so long to get there that we find ourselves wishing
the quiet banjo music would just give it a rest.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace