For some, celebrity is a burden—a dancing, cymbal-smashing monkey that follows them everywhere. For others, it’s an ego-rich substance that would be snorted through a hundred-dollar bill if possible—until then, social media will have to do. For Bill Murray, celebrity seems like little more than a whoopie cushion—something to be used for his own amusement at a time when least suspected.
If you are unaware, as I was before seeing The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned from a Mythical Man, Murray has a habit of popping up in the strangest of places and doing the strangest of things. For instance, when a couple in South Carolina were on the street taking their wedding photos, Murray stood by and watched, slapping his belly. He ended up in the photo with the bride and groom, arms limp at his sides and with the oddest look of contentment on his face. At another time, he crashed a party, noticed a large number of dirty dishes and took it upon himself to wash them. These are but two instances in a long line of Murray manifesting from the void, like some ancient spirit of frivolity. According to eyewitnesses, he’s known to whisper to those he visits, “no one will ever believe you.”
“…has a habit of popping up in the strangest of places and doing the strangest of things.”
Naturally, the question arises: “why?” Is Murray well-aware that these stories will eventually get out and, therefore, doing some kind of always-on, Kaufman-esque performance? Is he still on a contact high from hanging out with Hunter S. Thompson? I, for one, believe he likes using his celebrity as a social skeleton key—after all, if I walked around stealing people’s French fries, I’m not sure I would be greeted with smiles and open arms. High levels of voltage would be more likely.
The documentary, directed by Tommy Avallone, finds an answer in Murray’s custom-tailored philosophy, which it extracts from clips of his movies. It’s the “it just doesn’t matter” speech from Meatballs, in particular, that Avallone presents as the smoking gun for his argument. And it’s a surprisingly convincing one. As that odd contentment on Murray’s face in the wedding photo shows, he seems to be in a constant state of acceptance, which can only be obtained by some deep, internal peace arrived at by metaphysical means. Or maybe it’s the contact high.
“Murray’s custom-tailored philosophy…It’s the ‘it just doesn’t matter’ speech from Meatballs…”
Avallone dresses his documentary in the tin-foil hat and cargo pants of a show where bigfoot is tracked down, or aliens are wedged into historical events. Although Murray isn’t attributed with the construction of the great pyramids, there are some fun recreations where zero effort is put into finding a Murray look-a-like—a guy with a bad Halloween mask serves as the stand-in. This adds a much-needed element of silliness to a movie that can veer into starry-eyed celebrity worship, but ever so slightly.
While The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned from a Mythical Man convincingly proposes a reason for Murray’s gonzo antics and does so in an enjoyable way, it leaves a lot on the table. The movie teases at it but never explores Murray’s appeal in any satisfying way. Dan Aykroyd’s face isn’t plastered on t-shirts and bumper stickers. What makes Murray’s appeal so potent and able to leap across generations? He hasn’t headlined a successful movie in some time, yet twenty-somethings are ecstatic to see him. Wait until they see Aykroyd blend a fish.
The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned from a Mythical Man (2018) Directed by Tommy Avallone. Written by Max Paolucci and Tommy Avallone. Starring Tommy Avallone, Peter Farrelly, Jonathan Davis, Brian Gallagher, Josh Horowitz, Rachel Keefe, Joel Murray, Bill Murray.
7 out of 10 stars