The Good, the bad and the badass: Bill Murray
Having taken a week off for Sundance, this week we're back with an entry focusing on the brilliant career of a man who I'm pretty sure is impossible to hate, and a legend among legends. Of course, that man could only be...
Bill Murray is God. No really, he is. Ok, well, maybe not the God but certainly a God right? Unlike many other icons of his era (cough-Eddie Murphy- cough) Murrays been able to reinvent his super-stardom from generation to generation. Did you grow up in the seventies? Yeah- you love Bill Murray (from SNL). The eighties? Yeah- you still love Bill Murray (GHOSTBUSTERS, STRIPES). The nineties? You REALLY love Bill Murray (endless replays of GHOSTBUSTERS and STRIPES on VHS, GROUNDHOG DAY). The 2000s? You both love him and consider him a hipster icon (LOST IN TRANSLATION, his Wes Anderson & Jim Jarmusch movies, etc). Everyone digs the Murricane.
Tales of Bill Murrays awesomeness first took hold in the seventies, where he took over for Chevy Chase after the former left SNL following his first year. Murray quickly stood out, with his Nick the Lounge Singer, and Richard Burton impressions quickly becoming the stuff legends are made of. He moved into films with the cult classic MEATBALLS, but became a full-on star with the great STRIPES. GHOSTBUSTERS made him the second biggest box-office draw of the decade (just behind Eddie Murphy) but after it broke box office records, Murray actually withdrew from the public eye. He made a little-seen, serious adaptation of THE RAZORS EDGE (sadly NOT ripe for rediscovery, as he hadnt found his niche in drama yet), and spent four years in living in Paris, studying films at the Cinematheque Francais, and only returned to the screen for the occasional cameo (his funny bit in LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS) and to host SNL. He came back in a big way with Richard Donners SCROOGED, as well as the possibly ill-advised GHOSTBUSTERS 2, and the hits WHAT ABOUT BOB? and GROUNDHOG DAY.
Around the mid-nineties, Murray seemed to be settling into a series of so-so B-comedies like LARGER THAN LIFE and THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO LITTLE (spiced up with the occasional brilliant supporting part in movies like WILD THINGS & KINGPIN) before utterly reinventing himself through his part in Wes Andersons masterpiece, RUSHMORE. From there, he became Andersons patron of sorts, appearing (to some degree) in all his subsequent films. He also took weighty parts in a diverse series of indies including Sofia Coppolas LOST IN TRANSLATION and Jim Jarmuschs BROKEN FLOWERS, which introduced him to a new generation of filmgoers, and earned him critical respect (which had oddly long eluded him) and much-deserved awards recognition (although he hasnt won an Oscar- yet).
This is a tough one. Im tempted to say RUSHMORE, as if were talking straight-acting, thats probably his finest performance (with BROKEN FLOWERS and THE LIFE AQUATIC being close behind). However, if were going with the most iconic, inspiring, and funny performance the man ever gave, there can only be one answer: GHOSTBUSTERS. Ive literally seen this movie a hundred times, and Id bet theres not one of you reading this that hasnt seen dozens of times and loved it. His Peter Venkman is the smart-ass hero we all wish we could be, and there are actors (no names- that would be too mean) that have made careers just aping what he does here. Hes so damn good. Its incredible to believe that he almost wasnt in the movie, with the part having been written with the late John Belushi in mind. Murray had to be convinced to take the part, with Columbia green-lighting THE RAZORS EDGE in exchange for his performance. Thank God it worked out, as otherwise screen history wouldnt have ever been quite the same.
I hesitate to call any Bill Murray performance overrated. Sure, hes been in bad movies (PASSION PLAY, LARGER THAN LIFE, etc) but Murrays always good in them.The only performance of his that seems to have been overrated was his turn in CHARLIES ANGELS, which is as close to doing a paycheck job (other than GHOSTBUSTERS 2 and GARFIELD) that Murray could ever be accused of. People loved him in it, but Murray himself clearly did not relish the experience, turning down the opportunity to do the sequel. Instead, when Diaz, Liu, and Barrymore did the second, he high-tailed it to Tokyo and did LOST IN TRANSLATION. Good choice.
Ive always thought MAD DOG AND GLORY featured one of Bill Murrays all-time best parts. As a mob boss/aspiring stand-up comedian, Murray plays an unlikely heavy opposite Robert De Niro as the meek hero (more natural casting would be to reverse their roles). Murray manages to be both menacing, and also likable, as its clear that despite it all, hes not such a bad guy, although he cant afford to look weak. Its a movie of his very few have seen, but its great (the script by Richard Price is masterful).
Narrowing this down to one scene is impossible. Murray's done so many classic bits that to choose one is a crime. Pretty much any scene from GHOSTBUSTERS, or RUSHMORE could have gone in here, but I've chosen a brilliant little scene from GROUNDHOG DAY. This is an interesting film in that- when it came out in 93- everyone just kind of took it for granted as a Bill Murray comedy, meaning it made buckets of money but didn't get much critical respect or awards consideration. It was in the years that followed that GROUNDHOG DAY became the classic it is now, thanks to endless cable TV re-runs, and the fact that the movie becomes funnier, and more profound the more you watch it (there have been reams of academic literature written on it's time loop premise, with many believing Murray spends decades reliving GROUNDHOG DAY). One of the funniest bits in the movie is how- at first- Murray is thrilled by his predicament, using it to break laws and seduce pretty much ever woman in town. Over time, he starts to fall in love with his producer, Andie MacDowell, wit the only hitch being that she despises him. Thus, he uses the time loop to masterfully seduce her, and the result is both hilarious and (towards the end of the film) quite affecting.
5. LOST IN TRANSLATION
4. GROUNDHOG DAY
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