Oscar winner Aaron Schneider directed this depression era tale about a crusty, old hermit named Felix Bush. Felix, sensing the end is near, decides to have a funeral party for himself, while he’s still living. Felix, played by Robert Duvall, enlists the help of the local funeral parlor, run by Bill Murray and his assistant Lucas Black. It’s a comedic premise, except Felix has some secret buried deep in his past, which still haunts him, hence the self-isolation. The secret has something to do with Sissy Spacek and the evocative opening shot of a house on fire. The “living funeral” is more than just a lark, as Felix intends to use it as a confessional to make peace with his past.
With the promising cast and intriguing premise, I decided to check out Get Low. It helps that Laemmle Theatres in LA are offering $7 dollar Tuesdays with discounts on popcorn. Our newest contributor, Brandon Bennett, also decided to make a sojourn to the theater, so we decided to see how well the two of us can argue… I mean discuss this smaller summer movie.
BB: I really liked it, in a Crazy Heart way, but more so
BP: More so… really? Waiting to hear this.
BB: In that there was a really strong central character whose story it was. Everyone else moves Robert Duvall’s character forward. He affects the lives of others, but I was never drawn into their story much. Lucas Black particularly, while good, never had much more to do than worry about things. But holy hell, how great is Robert Duvall?
BP: Robert Duvall was good, but overall I felt like this movie was just okay.
BB: “Robert Duvall was good…” He was amazing. He was meant to own this movie, and he does. I’ll admit, he’s playing to his strengths. I only recently crossed Lonesome Dove of my shame list, and I felt a little Gus come through.BP: Well, that is still a blind spot on my movie watching list, but I’ve seen much stronger from Duvall in the past. And you say he affects the lives of everyone around him, but it is never made clear why? Why is this man changing the lives of those around him? I never bought into that. He’s a hermit with a past and a big secret, but it’s not like he has bon mots of wisdom or becomes some kind of father figure… He’s just using everyone until the final reveal.
BB: That’s a pretty cynical view of his character. He does become a father figure to Lucas Black, who would rather not have Bill Murray as his mentor because of ethical conflicts. Not that I particularly enjoyed that part. He also has plenty of pieces of wisdom for people. Problem is, he never believes them himself.
BP: It is there, but I just didn’t feel it was that strong.
BB: I agree. The subplots weren’t very strong, or at least as interesting as his story, but that’s how it was meant to be.
BP: My real problem was something else entirely
BB: And that is?
BP: Yes the subplots were weak, and one character set-up as an antagonist disappears completely, but my real issue was they never set-up Duvall’s character enough.
BP: We are constantly told he is a crazy hermit and everyone has a story about him (which we hear very little of) but he never seems that crazy. There’s never a scene that shows us, “hey, this guy is off his rocker.” At best, you could say he was mildly eccentric.
BB: Of course, that’s the point. No one was brave enough to tell one of his ‘stories’ to his face. Everyone he asked to blushed and stammered. Just like he does when trying to tell his truth. Did you want him throwing cans of piss and shitting in the town square?
BP: Not exactly, but something should have made him a little more frightening. I never felt like he was about to lose his shit. I needed a better sense of possibility.
BP: Seemed perfectly reasonable on both accounts. They were messing with his shit.
BB: He doesn’t need to be the crazy old hermit, because he’s really not. He refused to tell his own story, so everyone made it up for him.
BP: I see what you’re saying, but because there never seemed to be anything at stake from the start, the rest of the movie was just a long slog for me until we get to the actual funeral. Then, once we got there, I found the big reveal to be underwhelming, and frankly a little unrealistic, like a giant group therapy session.
BB: Well, then we took away two different things (obviously). I saw it as a beautiful character study of a man who has built his own prison out of guilt and shame, and the stories people tell. It was also set during the depression, which is always fun. It doesn’t have to be realistic to be true.
BP: It was apparently based on a true story, but yeah I know, it just felt so weird. I mean, Duvall is on a stage spilling his guts, trying to win another Oscar, and the whole town is just standing around listening to a story that has nothing to do with them. Sure, they’re curious, but no one in the crowd really gives a crap what he is talking about, yet there they are, at full attention. I didn’t like that scene at all.
BB: But, if they didn’t give a crap what he was going to say, why were they there?
And to your point of what is at stake: what’s at stake is his story. Is it going to be who he is or not? We are anticipating the moment just as much as everyone in the town. Or, at least I was.
BP: Maybe they, and you, were a little more interested than I was. I mean there was some nice mystery, but it gets drawn out and the mystery isn’t nearly as interesting. Fine, he lives with guilt. I get it. Move on already. I will say it was a novel idea to try to explain where hermits come from. Look, it wasn’t terrible. Duvall is good. Bill Murray is charming, as usual. Spacek and Black have some nice moments. I just wasn’t engaged like I thought I should be.BB: It is a light film. It kind of reminded me of Waking Ned Divine, tonally.
BP: Well, with the ending, I thought they were going for some kind of Royal Tenenbaums thing, but that was a fail
BB: But, I kind of think the failure is part of it, still. He told his story and it wasn’t nearly as fantastical as anyone had hoped, but it was so real. What Bush was saying was achingly real and you could feel the misjudgment of everyone around. We have to agree on the beauty of that opening shot.
BP: Oh yes, but that’s part of my disappointment. First off, nothing in the rest of the movie looks as good. I found the camera work a little hallmark-y. Also, the story didn’t match the chilling opening. I see what you mean about reality vs. stories, but the film’s failed to keep me interested and by the end I didn’t care about that kind of theme. I mean, essentially, they introduce this guy, he decides he wants the funeral and then we just kill time until the funeral, which you never doubt will happen.
BB: I could see that. Act 2 is really a “will he or won’t he and why,” but I thought it totally worked, because I was not leaving this guy until I found out more about him.
BP: I think, and this isn’t always a good idea (the idea, and me thinking), but it needed some flashbacks. I know Duvall relates the story so well they most likely didn’t want to take away from his acting, but maybe some kind of dual storyline, where the past is heading toward the climax while the present heads toward the funeral. Then we would be more connected with the story, or at least I would.
BB: Eh, I disagree. What are you gonna flash back too? He and his girlfriend on a blanket, having a picnic? The incident itself? You’ve been watching too much DAMAGES.
BP: Shut your mouth! Damages is awesome! And yeah, cut to that stuff so we could see who he was… and well… yes… exactly like Damages. You nailed it. I wish this movie was more like Damages. And in the final moment of the opening shot, Duvall could pull a flaming katana from his chest and fight off goons. I’m just saying, that makes every movie better.
BB: I’m not, not saying that… but Duvall would have an ax.
BP: An ax on fire?
BP: Yeah, I’m not getting tired of that. He deserved more credit for Broken Flowers.
BB: He was fine in it, but I did not enjoy that… for another time.
BP: Oh, I would argue that one all day. But yes, let’s stick to one argument at a time.
BB: So, in summation, Oscar for Duvall? Yes, okay fine.
BP: No, not even a nomination. I don’t think he will and I don’t think he should
BB: You’re absolutely right, he should be the only nomination. Now that that’s settled…
BP: Usually if the movie is just okay but the performance worthy, the performance has to be all-time great, and this was not an all-time great performance. It wouldn’t crack top ten Duvall.
BB: I HEAR YOU. Duvall was AMAZING and he’s cinched the oscar. Can we move on please?
BP: Okay, I get it. The internet has finally driven you mad. Get Low, pleasant but problematic with fine acting all around = C. And you sir, Duvall gushing aside, what is your final grade?
BB: I’ve only been driven mad by your repeated praise of Robert Duvall, “America’s greatest actor.” We agree, okay? I guess if I need to blurb this… Get Low, a wonderful journey into the mind of a mad man, no… Get Low, a sardonic yet heartwarming tale of one small town and its hermit… no… Get Low, a movie I really enjoyed. Robert Duvall was great and so was the supporting cast. Even if some weren’t given much depth. A- for me, if only for the lack of a Tommy Lee Jones cameo.
BP: Was there a niner in there? You’re saying A?
BB: Niner?…10…4? Yes, A-
BP: Ahh, but I bet you’ll forget this movie by the end of the year. You know what people don’t forget? Flaming katanas!
BB: You’re probably right. People like shiny things.
BP: Shiny thing… where?