Star cast lost in "Low"-profile Southern fable

Mon Sep 14, 2009 1:10am EDT
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By Kirk Honeycutt

TORONTO (Hollywood Reporter) - "Get Low" coasts along on Southern folkloric whimsy and sly humor for a good while but can't escape the fact that, as backwoods legends go, this one lacks a real payoff.

An unlikely but spirited cast has assembled for the feature debut of Aaron Schneider, who won an Oscar for his short "Two Soldiers," including Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, Sissy Spacek and Lucas Black. So the results are entertaining -- up to a point.

Theatrical prospects appear limited, though festival slots and perhaps a cable deal beckon. An appreciative critical response could earn the film a few showcase dates in major city venues or cinematheques.

The film plants one squarely in the Depression-era rural South, where gossip and the occasional fistfight among hotheads in town are the main forms of entertainment. For a couple of generations, locals have swapped and embellished tales about a backwoods recluse named Felix Bush (Duvall).

Probably nobody could live up to those myths, but one thing that links them all is that Felix and the devil are spoken of in the same breath. Then, suddenly, Felix invites everyone to his funeral -- while he is still alive. He'd like to hear what folks have to say about him before he really passes.

Up to this point, the screenplay by Chris Provenzano ("Mad Men") and C. Gaby Mitchell ("Blood Diamond") is based on a real Tennessee legend. Seems Old Man Bush even sold lottery tickets offering his valuable forest land as the prize. With that incentive, folks really did turn out.

But the Hollywood version goes searching for a bigger payoff than a raffle. Felix must have a confession to make. He wants to explain why he has imprisoned himself for 40 years with only mules and dogs for companions. Yes, he harbors a guilty secret.

Making these arrangements is all quite amusing for a while. Murray plays a hard-up funeral-home director who, by staging this "living funeral," will see a big payday, and Black is his young married apprentice. The 1930s-era publicity campaign, from a trip to a photographer for flyers to a nearby radio station, brings plenty of welcome comedy to the old legend. The script then lets a couple of characters turn up who know a thing or two about the old man's secret. Spacek plays a widow, newly returned to her hometown, who remembers the Felix of old and treats him with warmth and affection.   Continued...

<p>Director Aaron Schneider (L) and producer Dean Zanuck pose at the gala presentation for the film "Get Low" at the 34th Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto September 12, 2009. REUTERS/Mike Cassese</p>