More than 70-years ago, a Tennessee man made national news for staging his own funeral... and attending it. KPBS film critic Beth Accomando says American acting legend Robert Duvall has a field day playing the role in "Get Low."
Related Story: Review: 'Get Low'
KPBS Film Review: “Get Low”
By Beth Accomando
Air date: August 5, 2010
More than seventy years ago a Tennessee man made national news for staging his own funeral and attending it. KPBS film critic Beth Accomando says that American acting legend Robert Duvall has a field day playing the role in “Get Low.”
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(Tag:) “Get Low” opens tomorrow (Friday) at Landmark’s La Jolla Village Theaters. You can find more of Beth’s reviews online at K-P-B-S-dot-O-R-G-slash-cinema-junkie.
Back in 1938, Roane County Tennessee got national attention for a resident who decided to throw himself a funeral while he was still alive.
CLIP You want to be at your own funeral party alive?... yes… but you can’t have a funeral unless you’re deceased… hold on it’s a detail. We can look at it.
“Get Low” looks to this southern tall tale as a showcase for actor Robert Duvall. KPBS film critic Beth Accomando has a review later on Morning Edition.
Felix Bush is something of a local legend in his Tennessee backwoods country. He’s a cranky recluse who’s been living alone for some four decades. He’s easy to rile and kids dare each other to trespass on his property…
CLIP kid throws a stone and breaks a window
And on the rare occasion he comes to town, he gets taunted by the locals.
CLIP Don’t be coming in here old man, there’s women and children in here.
So when Felix decides to throw himself a funeral and to make a live appearance, well it’s news.
CLIP DJ: Sir how did you come up with the idea of throwing a funeral party for yourself before you die
Felix: I dreamed it
DJ: You’re a bit of a local legend… I’ve heard some pretty wild stories.
And it’s those wild stories that are likely to keep people away. So Felix adds a little incentive to attract attendees.
CLIP Felix: there’s gonna be a drawing, buy tickets and winner gets my place…
That certainly stirs interest but Felix doesn’t just want a big crowd. The septuagenarian also wants people to come and tell stories about him. His need for a living eulogy stems from the fact that he needs to unburden himself of some dark secrets. To help with the event, Felix turns to local funeral parlor director, Frank. Although Felix hasn’t spoken to anyone in forty years, he’s still a sharp negotiator.
CLIP Felix: Take out for the expenses and give me the receipts, put this money in the box and keep it in one of those ugly caskets. When it’s all said and done you name a fair price.
Murray: Is it just me or is he extremely articulate when he wants to be.
Black: I don’t know who’s selling what to who any more.
“Get Low” is designed as a showcase for actor Robert Duvall and he’s smart enough to use the role to his full advantage. He struts around like he owns the place, acting crotchety and dispensing southern wisdom.
CLIP There’s a whole lot you don’t know like what a dog dreams you can make up that he dreams about chasing rabbits but you don’t know and he can’t tell you.
His performance rings true and Duvall’s a delight to watch. Yet the film has all the honey drenched sentimentality of a Hallmark TV special. It also plays out with by the number predictability. Everything revolves around Duvall’s Felix. He’s made as cantankerous as can be at first but we know it can’t last.
Rather than develop Felix in depth, the film takes a shortcut. It simply has all the other characters talk about how fascinating Felix is, like Matty, a woman who reveals an affection for Felix.
CLIP Sissy: A thousand years ago he was the most interesting man and I don’t just mean the way he looked. He was beautiful. Most people are laid out nice and simple but he was like this big old cave that kept going deeper and deeper.
The problem is people tell us Felix is a fascinating character but what we see is more like a stereotyped curmudgeon raised to a higher level by Duvall’s acting. The film is certainly at its best when Duvall shares the screen with Sissy Spacek, who plays Matty, or Bill Murray, who plays the cagey funeral man. Murray provides a nice counterpoint to Duvall. While Duvall serves up a plain speaking man, Murray gives us a displaced northerner trying to make a go at the funeral business in the south where things move a bit slow.
CLIP Murray: What do you do when people won’t die. One thing about Chicago, people know how to die. They drown get run over shot whatever it takes.
Black: We get it done we’re just not in a hurry about it.
“Get Low’s” in no hurry either. First time director Aaron Schneider gives everything a warm glow to maximize the folksy charm and gentle humor. Even though we have to revisit the past to uncover Felix’ mystery, the film plays out in a very straitforward linear manner. There’s nothing fancy about Schneider’s direction. The downside is it makes the film play flat. The plus side is nothing gets in the way of watching Duvall and his fellow actors have a grand time with this lazy southern tale.
For KPBS, I’m Beth Accomando.