When I was growing up, living next door to my Grandma Williams’ house in Binghamton, NY was a crotchety old man named Pete Nedahall – not sure of the spelling. We – my sisters, my grandma’s next door neighbors on the other side, and I were mighty afraid of him. If you stepped on his property to retrieve an errant ball, you were afraid that this stocky man might come out, wearing a T-shirt and boxer shorts, with a pitchfolk, which he did from time to time. But mostly he yelled at us in his thick eastern European accent, perhaps Hungarian. Some of the neighbor kids would taunt him. His wife Kate was actually relatively pleasant to us, but when she died, he became even more embittered.
In the new movie Get Low – though it has a 2009 copyright – Felix Bush (Robert Duvall) plays a similarly onery hermit with a shotgun who decides to hold his own funeral, while he was still alive. The local pastor Gus Horton (Gerald McRaney) won’t help Felix with his plan, despite his large wad of “hermit money”, but the local funeral director Frank Quinn (Bill Murray) is not so fussy. Aided by his assistant Buddy (Lucas Black), Frank helps Felix promote the party. Meanwhile, someone from Felix’s past, Mattie Darrow (Sissy Spacek), returns to town, which proves to be a complicating factor, as does his relationship with another pastor, Charlie Jackson (Bill Cobbs).
The movie was occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, but it wasn’t cornpone humor as it might have been portrayed. This is largely a function of the acting. Duvall has visited similar characters before, most notably in The Apostle, my favorite movie starring him. This is not as good a movie, but his performance is equally solid. Also to be noted is Bill Murray, who has learned in middle age, how to ratchet back his comedic characters and still be funny. I also liked Lucas Black, who I doubt I’ve ever seen in film.
The movie is based on a true story, which apparently meant the funeral part, but not the back story about why he was closed off for four decades. Interestingly, there were critics who liked the movie very much, save for the more-or-less transparent ending. While I can see their point, the penultimate scene worked for me because of the sheer force of Duvall.
Besides, knowing the ending got me to thinking about old Mr. Nedahall, who I hadn’t crossed my mind in decades, and what secret pain he might have been experiencing those many years ago.