I usually begin my posts, because I really hate to write and love to waste time, by searching for an image to go with the review. And it’s usually pretty easy to find the iconic image that encapsulates the book or the film, even if it’s just the book jacket or a still of the lead actor.
For this movie, oddly enough, I couldn’t find a summary image. I even went to the sony site; nothing struck me as getting to the essence of this picture.
Which, upon reflection, makes sense. Because the film is about a lot of things, none of them particularly conducive to imagery.
Get Low is about life and death and aging and forgiveness and indifference and mystery and misery and misconception. It’s about how we live, and how we die, and what we leave behind.
And it was excellent. The acting, particularly by Robert Duvall and Bill Murray, was superb. Sissy Spacek is always good, and the supporting cast was uniformly strong. Duvall’s mystery hermit was equal parts intimidating and endearing, and always intelligent; if forced to find a single word to capture him, I’d go with “keen.” And as for Bill Murray, I think he has completely grown into himself, at the peak of his powers; I laughed at every line he delivered — it wasn’t that they were funny per se, just that he finds something in them and brings it to you with that slight, light ironic touch. I found his deadpan style and timing reminiscent of Buster Keaton and Jack Benny, and his characterization of Phil Silvers and John Cleese.
As for the story, it was engrossing and unspooled at a leisurely, unhurried pace. Duvall’s character, Felix Bush, is an old man who has lived alone and apart for forty years, feared and hated and mythologized by his town. After a brush with mortality, he decides to go into town and buy himself a funeral. A living funeral. One where everybody who has a story to tell about him will tell it — and he’ll be there to hear it. Ultimately, Bill Murray — the town’s luckless and underworked undertaker — consents to take on the project, through the intermediary of his assistant, Buddy, who is — a rarity in movies, and maybe in real life as well — a nice man.
Slowly, Buddy gets closer to Felix and to the mystery surrounding and prompting his decision. Gradually, he sees that in no wise does the myth match up with the reality. Far from being a hellion, Felix is a canny and fair man.
That’s just one of the lessons the film has to teach. Almost all of the main characters, save Buddy, are alone and barren. They are getting on in years and will leave — what? and to whom? — when they go. What will their lives have meant? What does Felix’s? Are you your story? Whose story are you? And who gets to tell your story?
Ultimately and utterly appropriately, at the end, Felix gets to tell his story. And if it isn’t as grand and elevated as Greek tragedy, that is quite possibly the point. Reality is never as sexy as legend; it’s smaller, and sadder — and far more profound than legend or myth could ever be.
What a pleasure, a thinking pleasure, this movie was.