GET LOW? Oh no.
I live in a rural area, and as there happens to be more than one ‘small town’ film to choose from these days, I’m thinking about tiny communities in the middle of nowhere and the movies made about them. (Not that I can help thinking about where I live. You really, really cannot hide in a small town. No more walking the dog in my pajamas. No more hiding in the grocery store aisle – because they’ll damn well see you in the parking lot.) Two ‘small town, tragic life’ stories are gone in some areas, still around in others, but I got to see them both – WINTER’S BONE and GET LOW. Oh no.
Oh no. I thought I would love GET LOW. On paper, there’s a lot of good going on – an incredible cast, an indie period piece (rare), the promise of sentiment and wisdom but delivered slowly, cleverly, without the maudlin trappings of Hollywood. What happened? The premise is good enough – Tennessee hermit (Robert Duvall) attempts to stage his own funeral while still living. The performances indeed are very strong, particularly Duvall and Bill Murray as the opportunistic-but-still-lovable funeral director, who says “ass” every other line. But Sissy Spacek is totally underutilized – she simply has nothing to do but wipe away a tear or two. Oh, and she runs across a field at the end.
But I digress. Underutilized female principal players isn’t news – it’s same-old same-old reality! The real problem here lies in a narrative that relies upon actions undertaken forty years ago. Instead of dramatizing human mistakes, the screenwriters are asking us to behave, sit still and watch a film in which people reflect upon and suffer from past decisions. (And I’m not advocating here for flashbacks – that would be even worse.) It’s just very tough when the thematic, emotional mother lode relies upon a character sharing their memories, as opposed to something we’ve experienced with them.
WINTER’S BONE does not have this problem. Action packed and absolutely in-the-moment, this small town film is basically a meth thriller, a new genre of sorts. It’s exciting to watch, has great characters, a great plot, and thematically delivers the ‘blood line loyalty versus personal survival’ angle well. The reason to even pair these films, other than they happen to be out around the same time and are set in rural middle-America communities (Tennessee and the Ozarks of Missouri)? Well, because they end up being representations of rural America. Is this fair to the films or filmmakers? Not really. But do both films engage with stereotypes? Yes. Is this interesting? No. Have we heard enough banjos and fiddles? Yes. Should there be more ‘rural films’ made so that the films do not shoulder the burden of representation, and so different types of voices might emerge, revealing different aspects of rural life? YES.
The trailer for both films are below. Both are worth checking out, although particularly WINTER’S BONE: