Get Low; PG-13, 102 minutes; Opening Friday, Vinegar Hill Theatre

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True story: Somewhere in the South during the Great Depression, an old man lived alone in the woods. One day, for reasons unknown, he decided to host his own funeral. Now he has a movie, Get Low, which asks, What makes a man a reclusive codger? How might he unbecome one? Will a clean shave and an ironic, yet redemptive, ceremony be enough? 

What, me hurry? Robert Duvall plays a recluse who returns to civilization to host his own funeral. Naturally, Bill Murray (above) is the man for the job.

The questions are more or less rhetorical in Get Low, though, because the old man is played by Robert Duvall. They call him Felix Bush. (They call him other things, too, and not nice things.) He has not endeared himself to his community. It’s already a coup when Felix comes in to town at all; his quest for a living funeral just makes matters stranger. It’s fitting that the only person who might be of any use to him is a slightly seedy undertaker played by Bill Murray. Just as it’s intriguing that his reappearance doesn’t escape the notice of a former lover played by (our very own) Sissy Spacek. Given the least to work with, she’s also the least showy of this cast’s lot, with the sharpest sense of how to fill silence. Meanwhile, Murray’s earnest family-man assistant, a placeholder, is played with infectious warmth and directness by Lucas Black.

Admittedly, its delicious setup establishes a clear potential for greatness. Unfortunately, it then settles for patness. The script, by Chris Provenzano, Scott Seeke and C. Gaby Mitchell, has its honor, which first-time director Aaron Schneider will not risk offending, so his scenes are ploddingly paced and highly redolent of sentimental Southern schlock.

At least it allows time to reflect on how much great work Duvall has done since he got started in movies as To Kill a Mockingbird’s Boo Radley, another rural Southern pariah, nearly half a century ago. He’s still got it, we’re meant to think. But we’d had no reason to suspect otherwise, at least not until now.

“I want everybody to come who’s got a story to tell about me,” Felix tells the mortician. Later will be revealed, and belabored, the fact that he has a story of his own, but isn’t sure he’ll be able to get it out. Fair enough: It’s the story of something awful from way back when, and the reason he’s lived alone in the woods all these years.

We’re still only a few degrees away from Hallmark here, with David Boyd’s cinematography cleverly concealing the requisite sepia in autumnal earth tones. But that’s just how Get Low goes: by taking some inherently lovely textures—Duvall’s depth, Murray’s wit, the lonely twang of a dobro on the soundtrack—and planing them into something much too smooth.

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