Monday, April 25, 2011

REVIEW: Get Low (2009)

I’ve waited a long time to see this film, after hearing about it in the same newspaper column about indie films where I also found the wonderful Winter’s Bone. And it did not disappoint. Get Low is, in all respects, an exemplary film, that anyone whose love of movies extends beyond cheap action and comedy flicks needs to see immediately.

Director: Aaron Schneider
Starring: Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, Sissy Spacek

This film, based on a true story and starring Robert Duvall, Bill Murray and Sissy Spacek, is about a crazy old hermit who plans his funeral while he is still alive. Now, like you probably are, I was scratching my head when I first heard that. What angle are they going for, I wondered. What logic could there possibly be in planning a funeral while one is still alive? The possibilities seemed hazy and yet also limitless. It was billed as a comedy, but really this is more of a wholesome film that encompasses both comedy and drama into the same heartfelt bundle.

What this film does is keep you interested. Every second is designed to keep you hooked. It starts out with the Robert Duvall character, Felix Bush, searching for a way to get his own funeral planned. The church won’t help him, but a down-on-his-luck and penniless funeral home director, Frank, (Murray) will. Very little is given to you right away. We know from the start that Felix wants a funeral ‘party’ before he dies, and we know that he’s got a story to tell, but not much else. There’s one scene where this guy points a gun at him and threatens him if he doesn’t get out, saying “there’s women and children in here and I don’t want you near them.” Why does everyone hate Felix? That question becomes burned in your brain and you just have to keep watching to find out what the hell he did. And watching Felix beat the jackass up was satisfying, too.

The scenes where him, Frank and Buddy (Lucas Black) are talking over the specifics of the party are great just for how much intrigue is packed into it. You’re literally hanging on their every word to try and figure out what’s going on. It’s such an interesting and out of the ordinary idea that you really want to hear what Felix’s ideas are about it. How can you not? This goes double for the scene in the radio station where Felix is interviewed on the air about the event that “everyone is talking about,” according to the DJ. Great, intriguing stuff – feeds the human hunger for mysteries. That’s really the movie’s first big selling point.

As the film moves along, we get a few more lighthearted moments (check out the photo shoot Felix does for his party; priceless!) before the more serious second half. We are introduced to Mattie Darrow (Spacek), who is an old flame of Felix’s and who is apparently a popular lady in this small town. That’s another thing this movie does well, by the way – you really, really get a feel for this small town atmosphere. You feel like you’ve been living in this town almost as long as the old folks the movie centers on have. That’s very important, and I felt like I was completely immersed in their world rather than just watching another movie. Top notch job there.

Anyway, where was I? Yeah, Mattie Darrow, Felix’s old flame. She’s a kindly old woman who just recently moved back in town permanently, and wants to rekindle her friendship with Felix. The first time you see them together, it’s startling – prior, Felix has not really shown any kind of emotion, but here he starts to seem like a real person, and it’s here that the movie ups its ante from a curiosity to having a serious emotional weight. You start getting clues as to what Felix did here, although I won’t spoil that part for you. See it for yourself.

Bill Murray is probably one of the other best things about this film. And why do you even need more elaboration? He’s Bill Murray! He brings his typical stoic, cut-and-dry expressions and delivery to the table, as well as his awesome smile that you can always tell means he’s got some shifty angle to swindle people with. He just steals the scene every time he’s on screen, and his lines are always hilarious. You really need an example? Fine, how about the scene right in the beginning where he’s first talking to Felix about the party plans? He listens to what Felix has to say, weighs the pros and cons, and when Buddy says that it’s never been done before and calls it ludicrous, Bill Murray just goes, “No, we can do it.” No surprise, not even a blink of the eye. Any opportunity to get cash, he takes, no matter how strange. True, it’s just because he’s going out of business, making it all more dire, but it’s just the way Murray delivers his lines and his facial expressions that makes it so funny.

There is more drama later on, and to the film’s credit, it’s very well done. The film carries its drama with a very dark, graceful kind of sweep, and puts it up against very fitting backgrounds of vast country landscapes in the rain and in the night. This is a very beautiful looking film, with the settings and scenery all being very quaint, old Southern style buildings and scenery that add a lot to the atmosphere. Plus, Robert Duvall is just really excellent at playing a quiet, confusing guy who everyone misunderstands and tries to figure out. He becomes entangled in peoples’ lives even though he has isolated himself for so long as a hermit.

The final day of the ‘funeral party’ arrives and again, I won’t spoil what happens, but I’ll say this: it is very direct, very short and very to the point. But isn’t that the whole message of the film? “Get low,” Felix says at the very beginning of the movie. The man he’s talking to doesn’t understand, and so he elaborates: “Get down to business,” he says. The movie doesn’t waste time at all with its climax. Everyone shows up, Felix speaks his piece, they all go home after the party ends. That’s all you need.

Get Low is a movie about a man trying to make sense of the past and find peace with his confusing and tumultuous life, so riddled with conflict and bloodshed as it was. He wants to set things straight before he dies. It is a powerful, emotional and cognizant journey. You should go see it now. Get low. Put everything else down and go partake in this cinematic gem.