Get Low is a film about stories. Good stories, bad stories, and the stories that are never told out loud but are repeated continuously in the dark recesses of the mind. The film plays with methods of storytelling found deep in the fabric of old Americana, weaving together a cinematic tale ripe with poignant character portrayals.
The acting is really the focus of the movie, and if Robert Duvall hadn’t won an Oscar already (albeit in 1983 for Tender Mercies), I would have sworn this was merely a vehicle for awards attention. There’s no doubt that Get Low will get that attention, and it should. Duvall shines as the crusty old “hermit” Felix Bush, who lives a solitary life as a self-inflicted punishment for a past he can’t bring himself to tell, but that he never forgets. The film is at its strongest when it dwells on Bush’s inner struggle, and not the source of the pain. I found the conclusion to be somewhat anticlimactic in this sense, but the performances are more than enough for audiences to take away. Bill Murray, Sissy Spacek, and Lucas Black are all perfectly cast in their respective roles.
While the acting in the film has garnered much attention, I was also interested in the main plot of the film, concerning Felix Bush and his funeral extravaganza. After living alone for a majority of his life, Bush has managed to alienate most of his neighbors, forging an identity as a deep woods phantom. All the townspeople have a story, or rumor about the old scary man in the woods, and Bush invites them all to share their stories at the funeral. But he is hard pressed to find a soul willing to come speak for him at the funeral, to tell the truth about his life, because he thinks he is incapable of doing so. It is an important allegory used in the film about funerals as the audience might understand them. We all want to be assured that there will be someone in our lives that we trust who can speak for us when we are unable to speak for ourselves. Bush is able to find someone who can do his dirty work, but the audience never hears it. And instead of the townspeople spinning their own wild tales of the madman, Bush is finally able to share with everyone, especially those to whom it matters most, the truth about his life.
Get Low does have some minor flaws, the largest of which is a script that is too small to contain the talents of Duvall, Murray, and Spacek. But at its core, I can’t help but feel that the film turns the traditional childhood “tall tale” on its head, and asks the question, If the boogeyman under the bed had his chance to come clean, I wonder what his side of the story would be.