In “Get Low,” everyone has a story about Felix Bush (Robert Duvall, “Crazy Heart”). He’s a hermit and a mean ol’ man, and even young kids can’t resist throwing rocks through the windows of his house. Bush has been stashed away in his forested compound for years, so when he decides one day to hitch up his mule and revisit civilization, it’s the talk of the town.
The townsfolk really start talking when he gets in a fight and clubs to the ground a man one-quarter his age.
Local church leader Rev. Gus Horton (Gerald McRaney, “The A-Team”) is the first person on his visit list. Bush has come to accept that he’s getting old and he’s after a funeral service “ for himself “ but the good reverend balks at Bush’s questions.
At the church with his wife (the lovely Lori Beth Edgeman, “The Crazies”), Buddy (Lucas Black, “Legion”) overhears the transaction and relays the information to his boss, Frank Quinn (Bill Murray, “Fantastic Mr. Fox”), who directs the local funeral home. Business ain’t so great, and eager for Bush’s big wad of “hermit money,” Quinn and Buddy pay Bush a visit to convince the old man that they can accommodate his last rites and requests.
As open-minded as they are, neither Quinn nor Buddy are prepared for the kind of service Bush has in mind: Bush wants a funeral while he is alive and well, and he wants everyone to attend. This isn’t an intimate gathering of close friends and family “ even if he had any, which he doesn’t “ this is an event, a funeral party. Bush wants everyone who has a “story” about him to show up and share their tales and grievances.
The mysticism of old man Bush has far exceeded reality, so part of his reasoning is to hear rumors and gossip no one will share to his face. The other purpose of the party, Quinn rationalizes, is a clearing of the air; that Bush wants a clean slate before he does die.
Quinn is exactly right, but totally wrong.
“Get Low” is great. It’s bittersweet, clever and funny. Murray, of course, provides most of the film’s laughs as the money-hungry undertaker who will do anything, no matter how outlandish, to make this sale and save his business.
Quinn becomes a PR coordinator of sorts, an event planner rather than a funeral director, and scenes where he leads Bush through a 1930s-styled funeral-party media tour are hysterical. As Buddy, Black is naive and wonderfully goodhearted, an open book for exposition and an empty canvas on which Bush paints his pain.
Duvall is similarly fantastic, and his character is the deepest. Layer by layer, Bush reveals more about himself and his past, and the intent of his funeral party comes into focus.
Director Aaron Schneider (Oscar-winning short “Two Soldiers”) does a great job tackling this Tennessean folk tale. He grounds the story enough to ring authentic, but leaves plenty of room between lines for glances, sighs and non-dialogue moments that impart a natural, unhurried feel to the whole affair.
The look and feel of the filming itself is to be commended, too, which is period-authentic, realistic and a pleasure to watch, which no doubt comes from Schneider’s long history as a cinematographer.
On the surface, “Get Low” is about aging and death, but it has a lot more to say about guilt. What’s enough penance for a past sin, and when does one stop punishing themselves “ or should they? Is salvation something for you and the scorned to set straight, or an issue for you and God to address? How much life must be sacrificed to rest easy for eternity?
Like all great films, “Get Low” leaves you questioning everything. “Joe Wertz