(out of 5)
An ornery old man living alone in the woods (Robert Duvall) shows up in his dusty little town and announces to the local preacher that he wants to arrange a funeral. Throwing a big wad of money at the parson, he finds himself unable to communicate his desires properly and so leaves in a huff; luckily, the employee of the local struggling funeral parlour (Lucas Black) is within earshot of this occurrence and goes after the gig himself, he and his profit-seeking boss (Bill Murray) traveling up to Duvall’s cabin (at risk of the dangerous mule mentioned on his Keep Out sign) and offering him their business. What they get is a most strange request: Duvall wants to throw a funeral party before he dies, insisting that everyone in the area who knows a story about him come to the celebration, enter a contest to win his land and then hear the tale he has to tell. When old flame Sissy Spacek shows up and throws his emotions into a tizzy, you begin to realize just how deep our hero’s secrets go. Aaron Schneider, Oscar winner for his short film Two Soldiers, makes a most curious feature film debut with this charmer: at once whimsical, soulful, melancholy and passionate, it never strikes any of these chords deeply and, attempting to touch them all simultaneously, comes off a curious combination of genres and moods. It gets enough things right, however, that the experience is not dissatisfying: Duvall is so wonderfully vivacious in the lead that you’ll happily forget that this is the kind of role he can do in his sleep, and his scenes with Spacek are so smoothly performed you’d be happy to watch them for hours.
Directed by Aaron Schneider
Cinematography by David Boyd
Music by Jan A.P. Kaczmarek
Production Design by Geoffrey Kirkland
Costume Design by Julie Weiss
Film Editing by Aaron Schneider