Sometimes patience is a virtue. While I’m not one to say “wait it out” often, I now implore you to keep you eye out for “Get Low,” see it at your earliest convenience, and be patient. This isn’t some quick-start film of immediate laughs and intrigue. Instead, it’s a wonderfully paced story that builds from the smallest morsel into an undeniably smart, funny, and heart-wrenching piece about one man’s quest to heal the pains of his past. And if big names are what will get you interested in the film, so be it: Robert Duvall. Bill Murray. Lucas Black. Sissy Spacek. Read on to learn about the magic of Aaron Schneider’s “Get Low.”
Felix Bush (Duvall) is a wild-haired, grumpy recluse continually taunted by the society around him. Young children venture through his property to throw rocks at his windows, and when he does venture out to town, grown men do the same to him and his mule – his isolation having created a dangerous persona that makes his fellow townsfolk lash out in fear.
But now he wishes to end his isolation before he dies. After getting a particularly cool response from the local priest when he aims to plan his own funeral, Felix ends up at the Quinn Funeral Home, where Frank Quinn (Murray) gripes to his young partner (Black) about the lack of deaths in their small town. It’s the 1930s and times are tough, but Felix might just provide the welcome air of relief with his grand plan: He wants the Home to coordinate a “funeral party,” where every person who has heard a terrible story about him will come and re-tell that story – while he’s still alive.
Enamored by the thought of much-needed income, Quinn agrees to help with anxious dollar signs in his eyes, and things start to become clear. This isn’t so much about Felix learning the stories, but about him ending his isolation and finally revealing the secret behind it, one that involves an old friend (Spacek) and a terrible twist of fate. But it’s more than just isolation that Felix is ending. It’s a self-imposed purgatory he thrust himself into 40 years ago.
It’s the journey to this revelation – what happened all those decades before – that makes “Get Low” a wonderful piece of filmmaking. Every moment tops the next, adding another layer to the story while never failing to keep it engaging and entertaining. Felix’s trauma is balanced by his own snark and quirk, as well as Murray in fine, understated comedic form. Never does the path to the funeral party get tiring because it’s always interesting – right down to those little moments. Murray plays Quinn with determination and heart that just barely peeks out of his sarcastic money-man persona, and even more impressive is watching Duvall slowly pull himself out of his purgatory. There are the physical aspects – cutting his hair, buying new clothing – but it’s as much emotional as it is physical. Slowly, we watch this man come out of the shell he buried himself in. Slowly we begin to learn that this man is a lot more than just an old nut, as little bits of his personality rise to the surface once again.
For a feature film debut, this is a stunning achievement, but I can’t say that I’m surprised. Aaron Schneider won an Oscar in 2004 for his first film, the wonderful short “Two Soldiers.” In 40 minutes he laid out the story of a young boy who desperately wants to follow his older brother to war, and walks 30 miles to try and join him, and “Get Low” only improves on this achievement.
I see a lot of films at festival, and even with the most skilled director’s it’s rare that you find a film that can be slow-paced while also intensely interesting and wonderfully done. But Aaron Schneider (with the pens of Chris Provenzano and C. Gaby Mitchell) pulled it off with ease.