We all live with regret. We face things we've done and can't undo that haunt us, even if they shouldn't. And it's how we live with these memories that impacts who we are. Some of us cave to our regrets, some of us rise above them and some of us unconsciously build our entire lives around them. Get Low, which features yet another terrific performance from Robert Duvall, is the story of a man who is fully conscious that he has built his life around his great shame—he puts himself in a cage, locks it and swallows the key without even telling the world why.
Even though Bill Murray is involved, the trailer for Get Low looks as though you might leave the theater suffering from diabetes. It looks like a saccharine feelgood project. The good news, however, is that the film, based on actual events, has an edge to it.
Duvall plays Felix Bush, who was a cranky oldtimer in the 1930s who decided to throw himself a huge funeral party while he was alive. In the movie, Felix is a hermit, an angry old man who's been cut off from his neighbors for decades. Everyone has a story about him, none of which is true. One night, after scraping through a box of keepsakes, he decides it's time to come clean, so he takes a huge wad of money into town and searches for the local preacher (Dabney Coleman) in an awkward quest for forgiveness.
But forgiveness for what? That deep, dark secret is the film's mystery. We assume we'll learn what it is at some point, especially when Felix begins to bond with Buddy (Lucas Black), an assistant at Frank Quinn's (Murray) funeral home. When Buddy and Frank make their way to Felix's cabin to offer their services, he one-ups them. Because everyone has a tale to tell about Felix, he wants them all told, in public, in a forum where he, himself, might be able to tell the one true story that no one else knows. Soon, the three of them have cooked up an enormous event, bought and paid for by the local mad hermit.
Yes, Felix is idiosyncratic, but director Aaron Schneider doesn't exploit his eccentricities and social awkwardness for cheap laughs, even though Felix is the sort of septuagenarian who totes a loaded shotgun he isn't afraid to use. Still, Duvall is the sort of actor who is capable of fleshing out a character who could be very one-note into someone real and multilayered. Felix is both manipulative and sweet in his attempts to make the situation work to his benefit, and the way he spars with Murray's beleaguered funeral-home director / party planner is a nice battle between two epic personalities who are both keeping things small and simple. Felix's relationship with Buddy is warm without being clichéd. In fact, that's really the film's strength. Schneider's film feels very familiar, and the path it takes is well-worn. But even though the journey feels like a subtle déj vu, you still want to take it.
The cinematography is elegant, the production design simple and solid, and when, at long last, we discover what Felix has been holding onto all these years, it's painful. It's a gut-punch, rather than a punch line. Sure, it's funny, but the film is more tragedy than comedy, more feel-squeamish than feel-good.
We all have our regrets, but seeing this film won't be one of them.