While I’m not about to divulge my deepest phobias to our entire readership (meager as it may be), I will say that one of them is the judgment of others—with all the paranoia that comes with that.
Much like a Russian nesting doll, there are more phobias contained therein. One of them is a fear of death. Not because I fear oblivion, but because I’m afraid of what people will say at my funeral. After all, who’s to say that all of my friends haven’t been lying about liking me the whole time?
Luckily, Felix Bush (Robert Duvall), the main character of Aaron Schneider’s 2009 drama “Get Low,” has it all figured out: he plans to attend.
I mean, I too would be afraid of posthumous slander if I had spent the last 40 years of my life as a hermit in the backwoods of what I can only assume is Georgia.
At the end of a long day of hermit activities, Felix is interrupted by a man who informs him that his friend has died.
Now with death on the brain, Felix decides to “get low” (movie title!) and set his affairs in order. After not finding a church of his liking, he calls Frank Quinn (Bill Murray) and Buddy (Lucas Black) and lays out his plan: he will throw (and attend) a huge funeral party for himself.
The guest list? Everyone who has a story to tell about him.
And with 40 years of rumor-filled absence, you can bet that there will be many in attendance.
So the first act is pretty much what you would expect. Felix comes out of his self-imposed exile and starts mixing with the townsfolk for the first time in for decades.
Some parts are lighthearted and funny. The thought of someone attending their funeral is a humorous one, something that is magnified by Duvall, who is among the handful of people who seem to be the living incarnations of the “crotchety grandpa” stereotype.
But Felix’s reunion with the townspeople is as troublesome as it is humorous.
Whatever the details of Felix’s disappearance were, they have been magnified by four decades worth of tall-tale telling, as small rural communities are wont to do.
These rumors, though obviously fake to an outsider, are taken as fact by many of the townspeople, and a fair number of fights and conflicts ensues. Not only that, but Felix reconnects with his older lover Mattie (Sissy Spacek). And while that reunion seems sweet at first, it is soon revealed that their relationship—and Felix’s past—is much more complicated than originally thought.
It’s this conflict that gives the film its direction, something which I personally found misleading.
When I saw the trailer several years back, it looked like a lighthearted, if also a little dry and morbid, story of a man. Hell, Netflix even gave it to me under the “Comedy” category.
But comedy “Get Low” is not. The emotional weight of this one packs a real punch. It is not some life’s-end jaunt with an old man, but a slow-burning and occasionally intense reveal of a man who has done something real bad. Of course, we don’t know what and won’t know until the end, but if he locked himself away for 40 years for doing it, it can’t be good.
And so, what you have left in the latter two-thirds of the film is rather dark, and, fortunately, rather good.
We know that Felix has something eating him up. For him, this party—and the story he will tell— is the way to release himself from that. The party planning is the easy part. What Felix really struggles with is finding the words to tell his story and, if he can’t, finding someone that can say it for him.
It would be a safe bet to say that Duvall and Murray are the two strongest links in the film’s chain. As I said before, Duvall does charmingly-grandpa-y Duvall in his role as Felix. Murray plays it equally close to home as a funny, if slimy, man with a troubled past. I mean, he doesn’t even have to do an accent because he’s “from Chicago.”
I wouldn’t say that either of them is typecast, per se (although Duvall certainly toes the line more than Murray), but it definitely feels as if they had their parts written for them. I can just as easily envision a writer typing “Felix as Duvall and Frank as Murray” as the other way around.
Of course, being in that situation often means you’re good enough at the job that audiences just won’t care.