' Cinema Romantico: Get Low

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Get Low

Centered around a man of a certain age facing his impending great gettin' up morning, the rhythm and tone of "Get Low" is very much identical, one would imagine, to a person who knows the end is near and has settled in for the wait.

That man is Felix Bush (Robert Duvall), based on a real life man, an eccentric old codger in 1930's Tennessee who still gets around via horse and cart and lives alone way out there in the woods, uses a shotgun to threaten kids who come around to hurl rocks at his cabin and has generated a lifetime of rumor and talk amongst the leery townfolk. But an old friend has died and the local pastor arrives to inform Felix. "What got him?" asks Felix. "He just got old," explains the pastor, information which does not sit well with our heavily bearded protagonist.

Snapped into the reality of his own inevitable demise Felix makes a rare appearance in town to request a funeral. Not his own funeral, per se, but a funeral party, an event wherein he wants everyone who has a story to tell about him to come and tell it. There will be music. He will raffle off his property. Enter Frank Quinn (Bill Murray) of Quinn Funeral Home, a man the audience is conditioned to expect to be a huckster, though he turns out to be far from it, as he and his assistant Buddy (Lucas Black) go to great lengths to arrange this unorthodox hootenanny.

Eventually Felix will decide he he doesn't want anyone to tell stories since he assumes all these stories will be tall tales and instead decides to have an old might-have-been-at-one-time friend Reverend Charlie Jackson (Bill Cobbs) say a few words instead, though Rev. Jackson is reluctant. Meanwhile an old might-have-been-at-one-time flame Mattie (Sissy Spacek) has returned to town. These relationships suggest long buried secrets, all of which the film, directed by Aaron Schneider, unspools at a most leisurely pace. Felix may not be long for this world but this movie about him is in no hurry. Bluegrass music is played but this is not Rhonda Vincent and The Rage. It's "Coat Of Many Colors."

Movies in no hurry tend to rely on the ability of their actors and Duvall and Murray are experienced veterans who refrain from grandstanding in roles where such showmanship would have been the easy play. Duvall is intelligent enough to know that the backwoods recluse background is peculiar enough on its own without having to accentuate it. Felix is clearly a man who goes long stretches without human contact and he never overdoes the unease. It is so effortless, so natural it might appear as if he is doing little to nothing when, in fact, he perfectly captures the less is more mantra. Murray meanwhile is the consummate businessman, professional, occasionally exasperated but never blowing his top, while also appearing to shade the character with a bit of personal history - an old life in Chicago and references of bitterness toward an, ahem, ex wife. Spacek hardly has anything to do but is present and alive whenever called upon.

It all builds to an extended third act monlogue that in lesser hands than Duvall's might have felt like nothing but a play for Oscar. But here it sounds precisely like something someone needs to say and has needed to say for a very long time and he doesn't care so much what you think about it because he just needs to get it off his chest and, by God, against all odds, it works. It does. We all have any number and any manner of sins and we all have to ask for forgiveness or fess up to someone and tell someone we're sorry or just in our own way, whatever that may be, make peace with them and if we don't want to live the majority of our lives in what feel like manmade prisons than it is probably best to do this long before it's time to get low.

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