Film >Das coot
I care about the people of this town as much as they care about me,” says Felix Bush of the denizens of Roane County, Tenn., in this fictionalization of the true story of a Depression-era hermit who threw a funeral for himself while he was still alive. What cranky Bush (played with hammy orneriness by Robert Duvall) means when he says that to the funeral director (Bill Murray) throwing the “party” is that he doesn’t care for them at all. And for a film that sets out to tell his story, Get Low doesn’t seem to care for him or the town, either.
First-time director Aaron Schneider spends copious amounts of celluloid introducing us to characters with no real character arcs in service of an event that’s not seen as much of an event at all. According to press accounts from the actual living wake, thousands attended the service, good music was played and the real Bush was appreciative. In the film, a cast of dozens of extras sparsely populates a nearby field, stands there solemnly and is treated to a teary, self-serving confession of wrongdoing by Bush. It’s a hopelessly tacked-on excuse for Apostle-style mugging from Duvall that begins as an interesting bit of back story and quickly swallows the narrative whole, leaving storylines unresolved. We don’t learn enough about Murray’s assistant, Buddy (the excellent Lucas Black), not to mention the townspeople themselves who are never given motivation for their fear and hostility toward Bush – aside from the fact that he looks and dresses like Robert E. Lee, which is creepy, for sure.
Of course, a lot of the film’s buzz surrounds Murray’s appearance – we’re treated to an average of one of them a year, so there’s always curiosity – and he turns in a solid performance with minimal winking and only faint traces of boredom. Duvall is a force of nature, but it’s an old-coot kind of nature that’s proven more and more one-note the older he gets. (What does it say about an actor when his best portrayals of spooky boogeyman status worked best when he was around 30 years old?) And the script by Chris Provenzano, who does country-fried mayhem much better as a writer on TV’s Justified, and C. Gaby Mitchell, is so enamored with Bush’s self-imposed prison in the woods – not much can be revealed about that redemption story without spoilage – that it forgets to take much interest in the town itself, which was so much a crucial part of the real funeral. Good for Duvall’s Oscar chances; bad for the movie.
For so much character business devoted to getting every detail right – Murray’s funeral-home business depends, he says, on putting on the event of the town’s history – it’s beyond puzzling that the big show sputters so completely. This isn’t Woodstock; it’s a farmer’s market without the food. Schneider makes us believe that the whole event hinges on the participation, the sermon and the absolution from Bush’s friend, Rev. Charlie Jackson (Bill Cobbs). Why, then, is he cut off after a couple of sentences? Why was Duvall’s character so insistent that people tell stories about him – especially the nasty rumors that circled him his entire life – only to omit that portion altogether? In fact, only one such rumor ever comes to light, and it’s so inconsequential that the townsfolk’s reaction to Bush would only make sense in Pleasantville. What in tarnation went so wrong with this movie?