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Get Low (Aaron Schneider, 2009)

Modest to the point of nothingness, Aaron Schneider’s debut feature Get Low mistakes simplicity for authenticity. Adapted from the true tale of a Southern man who held a funeral party for himself while still alive, this painfully misguided film certainly cannot be accused of being unnecessarily flashy, but it commits far more grave sins. It is dull, manipulative, and predictable.


From its start, Get Low begins a phony process by which it turns small town hermit Felix Bush (played here by Robert Duvall, who is handily the best thing the film, even if he is at his laziest) into an eminently knowable wounded soul. As the movie charts his character’s path from the mythic to the mundane, it stops at every turn to make sure that the audience understands how tortured Felix is. The process is unremitting and unpleasant, largely because Felix’s conversion is so blatantly prescribed. The script offers us nothing to distract from Felix’s supposedly-cathartic progress and the supporting cast adds little beyond supposed lame comic relief or a generic feeling of goodness. While Felix’s old flame Mattie (Sissy Spacek) muses about the depths that the young Felix once possessed, forty years of life alone seems to have turned him into a one-note character. Since Get Low is so devoted to that character, it becomes a one-note film, certain that revealing Felix’s tragic past will bring us all to tears.


Unfortunately, it doesn’t. As much as Duvall manages to make his big monologue feel vaguely human, Felix's inevitable moment of forgiveness can’t forgive all that has come before. The hackneyed tale that Felix finally tells in front of a crowd of astonished extras says less about the human capacity for regret that Schneider’s capacity for manipulation. Get Low, in its sly way, is as shameless as any exploitation film. An obnoxious, folksy score always dictates how we are meant to feel. Felix’s dialogue, composed largely of mostly one-word answers and clichés, is a righteous admonishment to anyone who dares try to offer a dissenting point of view. Outsized performances turn every pregnant silence into a punctuation mark. Get Low may be set in the 1930s, but it has no feel for its era. In place of emotional connection or compassion it only offers us a character that grows less interesting over the course of its runtime.




Jeremy Heilman