Aaron Schneider’s feature film debut, Get Low, opens compellingly enough with an image of a house ablaze in the night accompanied by some brooding music that makes you feel like you’re in for something really good because somebody did something really bad. It’s seems the tone has been set.
Robert Duvall, grizzled as all heck, commands the next few scenes as we get glimpses of his hermit life. But then Bill Murray, deadpan to the point of inertia, shows up as a funeral director lamenting that nobody seems to be dying in this Depression-Era Tennessee town, and everything goes out of tune. Luckily enough for Murray’s character, and his partner played by a well cast Lucas Black, Duvall’s Felix Bush desires to have a funeral party while he’s still alive. It seems he wants everyone to come and tell a story about him, and there’s plenty of rumor and conjecture to go around…but what’s really eating away at him is the story he wants to tell. Oh, and there’s also Sissy Spacek as the lovely lady come back to town with whom the crazy old coot once “got on” with.
The material here seems the stuff of a great short story. Stretched over the course of a feature film it becomes spread too thin. Schneider proves to be a good director and there are some great scenes here and there, but he stumbles in setting the tone that spans from P.T. Anderson-style period-grimace to Coen-esque comedy of manners. He also misses the mark at the film’s close when he follows up what would’ve been the haunting closing shot with a generic coda and plays an anachronistic song over the final moments after having used some great period music previously. It takes one right out of the moment and robs the story of its ability to transport the viewer to another time. The cinematography throughout is good and the period detail fine, but it all seems a bit “put on.”
Get Low never really gets a firm footing though the cast tries their darndest. And it’s a cruel twist of fate that the film’s superb cast is both its strongest and weakest link. Duvall’s Felix Bush is a classic “classic character” tailor-made for the actor and might just snatch him an Oscar nod. However, in playing yet another old man full of guilt and regret, Duvall is grotesquely typecast…as is everyone else, as fine as they are in their roles. Had Schneider been a little more daring…perhaps if he had played with audience expectations and cast Duvall as the funeral director and Murray as Felix Bush…or had he stuck to his guns and made promise on the tone set in the fantastic opening scenes…he might’ve been on to something really special.
As it stands, Schneider’s film is a harmless, handsomely made, nice film almost completely out of tune, which is a shame as it could’ve been so much more. With all the talent involved, Get Low should’ve aimed higher.
Written by David H. Schleicher