by HELEN GEIB
Get Low is a goodhearted film about coming to terms with the past and moving forward.
It’s set in the rural upper South during the Depression. Felix Bush (Robert Duvall) is the local hermit. He owns a cabin and a large piece of land outside town, where he’s been living in self-imposed exile for upwards of 40 years. A heart attack sends him into town to look for someone who will arrange his wake. The twist is that he wants it to come off before he dies, so he can be there to- well, that would be giving away the ending.
If you’re a fan of Duvall’s work or just generally an acting aficionado, you won’t want to miss Get Low. The movie is essentially an actor’s showcase. Not only is Felix a rich part that Duvall makes the most of, the film also offers noteworthy supporting performances by Bill Murray as the mortuary operator who accepts Felix’s funeral party commission, Lucas Black as his assistant and the firm’s (and film’s) moral conscience, and Sissy Spacek as an old flame of Felix’s who made a good life for herself. It’s a real pleasure to watch charismatic and individual talents play off against each other, in a variety of scenes that match actors of the same (Duvall and Spacek) and different (Duvall and Murray, Duvall and Black, Murray and Black) generations.
The script is a mixed bag. On the positive side, the characterization gives the fine principal cast something substantial to work with. The dialogue is natural-sounding and attuned to the main characters’ different backgrounds and personalities. The film also strikes a nice balance between humor and soul-searching leading up to the tug-at-the-heartstrings ending.
However, it is compromised by weak plot points like: Felix’s youthful flight to Illinois when he built a church with his own hands for a black preacher who will return at the end of his life to speak home truths. The town bully is introduced only to abruptly disappear from the story after the build-up, strongly suggesting a (not very interesting, from what we did see of it) subplot that hit the cutting room floor. Similarly, the funeral party is aggressively pitched as an opportunity for everyone who has a story about Felix to come and tell it, but nothing ever really comes of that set-up. Another inducement to attendance is found at the mid-point and the storytelling angle is awkwardly transformed into a literal and figurative platform for Felix.
The filmmakers’ achievement in capturing the period setting in the production design and costumes on an indie budget is commendable. The cinematography is really lovely in the scenes set in the early spring forest at Felix’s place.
2 1/2 stars
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