Down With Low

It’s perfectly allowable to take shots at Get Low and thereby lower its Rotten Tomatoes rating to 88 and Metacritic rating to 78. But I’m having trouble comprehending how any critic could say to himself or herself, “Wow, this film really deserves to be slammed and I’m going to tear it a new asshole.” I know that feeling and the qualities that tend to motivate it, and, trust me, Get Low doesn’t deal those kind of cards.


(l. to r.) Bill Murray, Lucas Black, Robert Duvall in Aaron Schneider’s Get Low

Aaron Schneider‘s period drama is one of those laid-back fable movies — not quite “real” but carefully done and honestly rendered as far as it goes and therefore real enough. Set in 1938 backwoods Tennessee, it feels polite and quiet and connected to the gentler aspects of life. There are no sudden jolts in the story, and no child molester characters, no malicious toothless hillbillies or murderers or moonshiners, no shotgun yokels, etc. It takes its time and doesn’t push too hard (although some of it feels a little on-the-nose), and knows what it’s doing every step of the way.

Get Low is a restrained and atmospheric soft-shoe shuffle about regret, decency, nightmares and making amends, and about one ornery old dawg (very nicely played by Robert Duvall) finding a measure of peace at the end of the road. It’s about clean, elegant dialogue and exceptional, pitch-perfect acting all around, especially from Duvall, Bill Murray (as a considerate, fair-minded, moderately greedy undertaker with a certain Murrayish wit about him), Lucas Black (as Murray’s solemn assistant) and Sissy Spacek (as the sister of Duvall’s…I’d better not say). It’s slowishly paced, but fittingly for the time period and milieu.

The sharpshooters, some of whom are fans of Todd Solondz (if you catch my drift), are primarily complaining that Get Low is too mushy, too cornball, too formulaic, too folksy, too obvious, too unsubtle, too underlined. For them, they mean. They wanted a less conventional, less recognizable, more off-kilter sort of deal.

Well, I know from mushy, cornball, formulaic, folksy, obvious, unsubtle and underlined, and trust me, these guys are being way too picky. Get Low flirts with a faintly cornball vibe from time to time, but the nip-nippers are almost accusing it of being Mayberry R.F.D., and that’s ridiculous. Its a lot closer to the kind of material that the late Horton Foote used to write.

The fact that Get Low will almost certainly wind up as one of the ten Best Picture nominees is especially bothersome to some. Slant‘s Nick Schager writes that “one can practically hear the Oscar telecast’s orchestral music cuing up at the close of Robert Duvall’s every scene in Get Low, what with his role — as a mysterious hermit in 1930s Tennessee who plans to stage his own funeral before his death — the type that’s been designed, down to its measured beats of dialogue, to garner year-end accolades.”

Maybe so, but I know when a film is being relatively honest and straight-shooting and doing everything it can to get it right by taking things down a notch and not forcing the issue, and Get Low is one of those films.

23 thoughts on “Down With Low

  1. I look forward to seeing this film and I am sure that I will like its gentle ways. The critics that want to take it down are the cynical types that love mean spirited films. I think that Duvall will be nominated but do you really think the film will be one of the ten? Maybe so.

  2. Perhaps same old story. Great early reviews, later reviews feel the need to review the early reviews instead of the film.

    Even if the early reviews were a bit too fawning, I don’t get why some feel like they need to “even it out” or play the “it’s not that great” card when “it’s good” would suffice.

  3. Wells to LarryGopnik: No, it doesn’t suck. It doesn’t even flirt with suckitude. That’s a silly and immature thing to say. If you don’t think it works, say so and explain why…fine. But snarky one-word dismissals of films that clearly work on the level they’re trying for are not welcome ’round these parts. Keep it up and I’ll boot your ass outta here.

  4. Ya know, I *look forward* to movies like this. Quiet films, character pieces, old-hand actors confidently delivering the goods.

    Not every flick has to be amped to 11. You eat steak and baked Alaska at every meal, pretty soon you’re sick of steak and baked Alaska.

    This movie looks to be an entirely pleasant way to spend an afternoon. What’s wrong with appreciating that?

  5. I found Get Low to be mediocre fair. The story took a long while to really get going and I found myself tiring out during the first half. I didn’t really find Bill Murray’s character as amusing as others find him to be. It is a much better movie than Life During Wartime though which I saw at NYFF last year and despise with a passion.

  6. Murray is delightful in it, but Duvall is playing *BORING* typical old-coot eccentricities that he could do in his sleep. I have no issue with sentimentality, but this is genuine schmaltz in the service of a pedestrian, not-terribly-interesting story . It’s a “nice,” agreeable movie that the elderly crowd will eat up, emerging from the theater raving that their arthouse is “finally” playing a good movie (i.e. one that panders to predictable, gentle sensibilities).

    Whatever, I totally get why people like it, and I’m sure word-of-mouth will be solid, but I found it nearly unendurable.

  7. I thought this film was utterly charming, and Duvall terrific, willing to put aide certain annoying mannerisms he’s been prone to lately.

    What I’m getting tired of, however, is the whole critical echo chamber thing, critics dissing other critics for their opinions, and basically just talking to themselves, because believe me, the general public ain’t listening, and doesn’t care.

  8. >Ya know, I *look forward* to movies like this. Quiet films, character pieces, old-hand actors confidently delivering the goods.

    You know, so do I, but for some reason the trailer to this turned me off. I don’t know if it’s specific to this film. Indie/Oscar-bait trailers can, in their way, feel more enervating and restrictive and soul-deadening than equivalent trailers for action blockbusters or broad comedies. You know, there’s always some goddamned life lesson to be learned, and someone’s spirit gets awakened, and all that BS, and the trailer seems to be oppressing you with its summary judgment of “you are the sort of enlightened educated individual who would appreciate the whimsy and wonder of this quirky little drama.” Agh, makes me all congested in the chestal area.

    The fault generally lies not in the movie, but in the on-the-nose beats and hypercompression that you see in a trailer. It’s just a terrible medium for distilling/encapsulating a movie, particularly a movie that is richer than can be contained within 3 minutes (which any good movie is). The best trailers evoke, offer a taste, set your imagination off to the races. Maybe I just need to make a point of coming to every movie 15 minutes late so as to skip them.

    Anyway. I can’t get interested in Get Low, but I guess I wouldn’t go out of my way *not* to see it. Duvall and Murray onscreen together… some good’s gotta come of that, right?

  9. I agree, too many cymbal rolls in trailers these days. Watch the Charlie St. Cloud trailer and see how many times there is a crashing wave of inspirational, life-affirming cymbals…

  10. Here’s a great idea: due to irrelevance, let’s never discuss the Tomatometer again. A movie is not a fucking number.

  11. Thank you, Jeff. I would not have known about this film without you, and I’ll gladly give it a try when I get the opportunity. My film que at Netflix is much richer thanks to you. Happy Weekend!

  12. I’d put it in the “good, not great” category. I did find Murray amusing, and while Duvall has played the “old coot” character before, I thought he did enough different things with it to make it interesting (all of his scenes with Lucas Black, Sissy Spacek, and Bill Cobbs, for example, were enough to make it rise above the stereotype). I do think the instrumental score was too intrusive.

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