DVD Review: In Get Low, the semi-true tale of a backwoods hermit who wanted to attend his own funeral, Robert Duvall sets the bar high for all future “irascible old coots” as he and Bill Murray circle each other in this charming Depression-era dramedy.
There’s a point near the end of Get Low when Robert Duvall’s Felix Bush—the Mysterious Hermit of Caleb County—regales the crowd at his own “funeral party” with the telling of a torrid and violent episode from his past. Up until then, Felix had been a taciturn figure of few (gruff) words, but as he shares his story he becomes animated, theatrical, and full of wild life.
That’s Get Low in a nutshell: A bemusing, folksy yarn that under its surface guards a bellowing, burning heart.
It’s the late 1930s in rural Tennessee, and aged, isolated Felix has caught wind of his inevitable mortality. Struggling with a county-wide dearth of death, local undertaker Frank Quinn (Bill Murray) is more than happy to indulge Bush’s desire to have a “living funeral party”—that is, to hold and attend his wake while he’s still around to see it.
Bush’s desire for a party is also fueled by a need to cleave himself of the dark secrets of his past, to wash away not so much his sins, but the melancholy mysteries that drove him into a life of seclusion in the woods and made him such a feared and infamous figure.
Based to some extent on the true story of a Tennessee hermit, Get Low is a wry and gentle dramedy, steeped in old-timey nostalgia and set to a mournful fiddle. But most of all it’s a chance for first-time director Aaron Schneider to sit back and marvel at the good fortune of having two very different, very talented actors maneuvering around one another.
Duvall gives Bush his usual stunning authenticity–as always the actor simply vanishes inside what feels like a real, living, breathing human being. And Murray dryly outfits his usual sleepy sardonics with the moustache and suit of a ‘30s car salesman—once again the opportunistic angler tricked into doing the right thing.
(Lucas Black, Sissy Spacek, Gerald McRaney and Bill Cobbs all turn in solid supporting work.)
Rustic almost to a fault, there are times Get Low’s backwoods charms and Duvall and Murray’s well-worn characters meander toward a rut—the common mark of a first-time director getting a little lost in his own film’s trappings. But ultimately the two actors (especially Duvall) hold things on track.
(I grew up in a family of funeral directors in a rural Midwestern town, so quite a bit of Get Low rings enjoyably true to the business my grandfather founded in the early 1900s: the old funeral coach and its name plates, the casket room, the social card games in the funeral parlor during slow periods, and yes, the fact that the funeral business is a business.)
Like Felix Bush, Get Low is in no hurry, and if it sometimes seems to have slowly lost its way, don’t worry—it knows where it’s going. Stick around for the ride and you’ll be rewarded with a fine tale nicely told.