Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Living Funeral Party: Get Low

It was the Great Depression, a high-spirited time when small towns indulged the whims of their local eccentrics. In the case of Felix Bush, it also involved a fair amount of money changing hands. Even if it is so-called “hermit money,” the kind that comes in ratty balled-up wads of cash, there are plenty of folks willing to take it in Aaron Schneider’s Get Low (trailer here), which opens in New York this Friday.

The real life Felix “Bush” Breazeale became a 1930’s media sensation when he held a “living funeral party” just to hear what folks would say about him after he died. To assure a proper turnout, the unconventional recluse offered his land in a lottery drawing for those who bought a ticket. It worked to the tune of 12,000 ostensive mourners.

Physically, Robert Duvall is a good fit for the historical Breazeale, known simply as Felix Bush in Low. Though once respectable, for decades he has lived in the woods with only his mule for company. Wild stories circulate about him in town that he would like told to his face. He is also preparing to “get low,” as in six feet under. However, he has more unresolved issues hanging over him than you can swing a dead possum at. While his premature funeral might help Bush find some closure, it definitely represents a big pay day for funeral director Frank Quinn, a street smart Chicago transplant.

Screenwriters Chris Provenzano & C. Gaby Mitchell have great ears for colorful regional expressions. However, their story arc holds few real surprises as it chugs along towards Bush’s redemption. In fact, when he finally makes his big public confession, it is almost anticlimactic.

Still, Bush is the sort of hardscrabble southern character Duvall seems born to play, conveying his gruff dignity as well as his caustic tongue. It is also a pleasure to see him opposite Sissy Spacek (as Bush’s very former romantic interest Mattie Darrow) in a film that isn’t Four Christmases. Bill Murray’s understated comic relief as Quinn definitely helps leaven the film’s earnest sentimentality. However, the POV character (Buddy, Quinn’s young protégé played by Lucas Black) is so bland and boring, he becomes a major drag on the film.

Low is not without its country charms, but given the talent assembled, it could have been considerably more. Notable for the wickedly sharp performances of Duvall and Murray, it opens Friday (6/30) in New York at the Lincoln Plaza and Regal Union Square Cinemas.