Get Low is a movie I’m betting the majority of you haven’t heard of (because I sure as hell didn’t), which really sucks considering the all-star cast it has for its leads (Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, and Sissy Spacek). The film was released back in 2009 at the Toronto International Film Festival and from then on sort of just, well, stayed low as it were. It only played to about 550 theaters, and got a lot of strong critical reception, but that was about it. A good number of critics that supported the movie went so far as to predict some sort of Oscar attention for the performances which, unfortunately, never happened which is a damn shame considering that is the main reason anyone should see this movie.
Get Low tells the “somewhat based on real events” story of a local hermit, Felix Bush (Robert Duvall) who tries to buy himself a funeral party, that he will attend alive. He strolls into town on his mule-drawn carriage, while the everyday citizens spew their rumors about how he “is in league with the devil” or “killed a bunch of people in cold blood” and such. After Felix has been turned down his interesting request, alcoholic funeral parlor owner Frank Quinn (Bill Murray), who doesn’t want to miss out on a chance to take an old coot’s money, jumps at the proposition! Felix wants to invite the whole town and anyone who has an interesting story to tell about him to his party, and to insure people come he starts a raffle, the winner of which will inherit his land the day he dies.
This is the premise for the first half of the movie, and they really run with it. There are plenty of opportunities for Bill Murray to have his comedic flair shine, and the interactions (although few) between him and Duvall are pretty hilarious. The film quickly shifts from a more comedic tone to a dramatic one with the introduction of the local widow Mattie (Sissy Spacek) of her and Felix’s past relationship, and her deceased sister Mary Lee. We soon find out that there is much more to Felix and that he is being eaten up by a dark secret that he has kept hidden for well over forty years.
It’s all an interesting story that is told relatively well, but the abrupt shift in tones early on, and some of the weaker fleshed out character relationships (Frank’s business partner Buddy, who adds nothing to the story despite the script’s urge to make him seem important) are a few signs of the not-so-hot script. But as I said above, what makes this movie awesome is the performances. Duvall’s depiction of the recluse Felix has so many layers, and he can communicate such strong emotions just through his stares and glares. Even in the first part of the movie where his character is just supposed to be a crotchety old man, Duvall adds so much more to it. The final monologue Duvall gives at the funeral party is, dare I say it, one of the best speeches any character has given on film and all the credit goes to Duvall. In those few minutes you see an eighty year old actor putting in his whole heart and soul, giving a truly career-defining performance. It’s incredible.
Bill Murray slips into the alcoholic, quick-witted funeral parlor manager role all too well. He finds any opportunity where he can make a scene funny, and is the main source for any of the film’s comic relief. The scenes between him and Duvall are absolutely delightful, but as I mentioned above there are just far too few. Sissy Spacek brings an incredible depth to Mattie, the scenes between her and Duvall have such an air of realism that it’s just a ton of fun to watch.
All of these awesome actors and not a single Oscar nod. Pretty sad, as all of them (most notably Duvall) deserved some high recognition for the work they did in this film. But really, who wants an Oscar these days anyway? The MTV awards is where it’s at.