Toronto 2009 Review: Aaron Schneider's Get Low
by Alex Billington
September 20, 2009
Don't ask why, but I wasn't expecting much out of Get Low. I remember hearing about the story when it was first announced, but I just didn't expect it to be that great. Boy was I wrong. Get Low is a film that mixes emotion and comedy in a hugely impressive way (for a first-time feature filmmaker) and is endearing at the same time. It's led by an incredible performance from Robert Duvall and is a remarkably wild ride, which almost doesn't make sense considering it's a period piece set in the 1930s, but it works. I wasn't expecting to like it, but I fell in love with it, thanks to all the little details that director Aaron Schneider brought to it.
Get Low is about a Tennessee hermit named Felix Bush (Duvall) who has lived the last forty years alone, in seclusion, in his cabin in the woods. Duvall brings a spectacular amount of emotion and nuance to the role, as we're meant to find out over the course of the film exactly what happened earlier in his life. He one day decides to host his own funeral while he's alive. It's an interesting concept, but there's no reason it can't be done. It's a way for him to confront his past and enjoy the "party" before he actually passes away. And that's where Bill Murray steps in as Funeral Director Frank Quinn, who is in dire need of money anyway.
As you might've guessed already, bringing in someone like Bill Murray makes this a comedy. It actually takes a while to get to that point, but then again, a film about a hermit who hosts his own funeral while he's still alive is inherently comedic anyway. But my favorite part of this was actually the opening 30 minutes, in which Duvall sports a beard so long he's hard to recognize. His emotions and mannerisms in that opening were perfect, and although he's one of those "don't bother me" old guys, I started to feel for him and his struggle to finally be accepted in his small town. After he gets a shave, well, he's just never the same again.
Balancing the Bill Murray humor and Robert Duvall emotion was quite a challenge. While it works most of the time, there were a few moments where it just felt out of place. I was expecting to tear up when Duvall was talking, but then Murray would throw in a quip or two and kill the mood. The opposite happened in a few scenes where I was expecting to laugh, but found myself wrapped-up in the drama of the scene, since it was often emotional. Even though you may think you know the complete story, you don't, there's so much more to it. There aren't any big twists or turns, per se, but it's actually still fascinating to watch play out.
Lastly, this wouldn't have been as good as it was if it weren't for Lucas Black, who plays Murray's assistant. He adds an additional dynamic to the story that I loved. While Black has only starred in films like Fast and the Furious previously, he really steps it up in Get Low and delivers a performance that actually made the film for me. Get Low is one of my favorite films from Toronto and is one I won't be forgetting anytime soon.
Toronto Rating: 9 out of 10