Directed by: Aaron Schneider
Written by: Chris Provenzano & C. Gaby Mitchell (screenplay)
Starring: Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, Sissy Spacek, and Lucas Black
Get Low, the feature directorial debut from Aaron Schneider, is a lot of things; visually enthralling, emotionally poignant, and terrifically acted are among them. The hardest thing to figure out about it, though, is whether or not any of it is sincere.
Recluse Felix Bush (Robert Duvall) emerges from the woods after 40 years of near-solitude to plan his funeral. Nothing too strange about that, until he announces to the planners (Bill Murray and Lucas Black) that he wishes to not only have it while he’s still alive, but sell tickets and have people tell stories about him. Based partly on a folk tale and partly on writer ingenuity, Get Low traces Felix and his preposterous task and sees it all the way through the ceremony.
If the writers Chris Provenzano and C. Gaby Mitchell don’t seem to have their hearts into the story or the dialogue, it’s probably because they assumed with a cast of such veterans they wouldn’t have to. Duvall does Felix justice, but even he can’t save him from many of the fatal missteps of the script.
As he and Buddy (Black) drive down a dark road in the rain after visiting an old reverend that Felix wishes to speak at his funeral, Felix suddenly and without warning makes Buddy stop the car. Buddy had just offered him a place to stay and wait out the storm, but Felix apparently isn’t having it. We think that’s the reason, until he stumbles up to the grave of his former lover. This moment is so forced that it’s impossible to look past it, especially since Felix then makes his way an unknown number of miles to the lover’s sister Mattie’s house.
The chemistry between all the actors is wonderful, and Schneider has the makings of a real visual poet. Not one shot in Get Low seems out of place, even if some of the plot is in shambles. It isn’t until the actual funeral that it becomes visually mundane, with a crowd of people just kind of thrown together in the woods and then an ending tacked on to milk it almost completely of emotional depth. Even then, despite these missteps, Schneider shows a real knack for directing.
It hasn’t been more apparent that a good script is key to a movie since I first saw Avatar. The dialogue in Get Low isn’t bad like in that movie, but the structuring and execution of the plot drains it of urgency even as the actors try desperately to pick up the pieces. Felix is trying his hand at redemption. He spends the whole movie stuck in guilt from the burning house of the movie’s opening shot, until he decides to stop and face it head on. It could have been a great story, had it not come off as a mock execution.