The man, the myth, the legend. You would have to be on another planet to not know who Bill Murray is. In terms of the comedic talents I grew up on, Bill Murray is right up there as a living icon. Whether its Ghostbusters or Lost in Translation, Bill Murray consistently carries an on-screen magnetism that can never be matched or repeated.
Contrary to the dark, underbelly stories that have oozed out of the buried abyss about celebrities and their behaviour, The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned from a Mythical Man explores the phenomenal behind his fame in a heart-warming documentary.
Considering its frequent use and feel of ‘reported sightings’ in its dialogue, it makes you wonder whether this documentary could have featured as a potential X-File for Special Agents Mulder and Scully. A random sighting at a wedding, an impromptu appearance at a bar in Texas to serve drinks to customers, answering the call to feature at a dinner party, singing karaoke in New York or even playing tambourine at a house party, Bill Murray is somewhere out there like a celebrity bigfoot! It’s something that might be too incredible to be believed. Just when you least suspect it, this walking enigma could be nearby, ready to pounce with a surreal moment for the memory banks. Heck, he could be hovering above me as I write this review!* When Mulder and Scully said that ‘The Truth is Out There’, they weren’t kidding!
So, what is behind these sightings? That’s what director Tommy Avallone tries to uncover. Along with his gleeful crack team, they take a reflective journey across America to find the truth and connect the dots by collecting testimonies, interviews, pictures and grainy mobile video footage in the dream pursuit of meeting the man himself, somewhere in the concrete wilderness.
There’s something special about the stories unearthed with a Bill Murray encounter. Each guest talks with a disbelief, overwhelmed with the celebrity starstruck and Murray’s ability to keep everyone on their toes. It’s a position not immune to the entertainment industry. Sofia Coppola made repeated references about the making of Lost in Translation, not knowing if Murray was going to turn up despite leaving voice messages and letters (he eventually did when he flew into Tokyo for the first day of filming). But Avallone’s documentary befittingly plays into the ultimate magic behind Murray’s persona, an almost mystical feat that is part immense enjoyment and part elusive. He enjoys the improvised spontaneity – a skill picked up through his early career from Saturday Night Live. Murray is always in control – choosing when to work as an actor or live up to his exploits of generosity and kindness. Practically nearly all the recollections end with Murray walking off in the distance, never to be seen again as a living embodiment of The Littlest Hobo theme song.
As much as it lacks a defining and definitive moment, it quickly dawns on you how the documentary becomes less about Bill Murray ‘the comedic star’ but Bill Murray, ‘the soul-searching man’ seeking higher fulfilment. It’s the reconciling peace within himself that fuels his mythical status. The tonal balance of the documentary delves into his career-best films such as Groundhog Day, Scrooged and The Razor’s Edge to illustrate Murray’s Zen-like philosophy and spirituality. Who would have thought Meatballs could carry a weight of significance? Avallone makes a valid point about the distracted, frustrated and lonely world we’re living in, dominated by social media or things not deemed authentic. The life-affirming encounters are not just done for attention but Murray’s desired mission to help others live in the moment and live the best life they can. There’s a saying, ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’ – Bill Murray fully embraces to that notion.
Avallone’s direction is not only filled with joyful enthusiasm and substance but unintentionally captures an unofficial Lost in Translation sequel. At the end of Coppola’s superb film, it’s the hope that Bob Harris (Bill Murray) would change his inadequate and miserable life. That theme echoes throughout as a touching celebration of the actor. Just make sure you stay until the very end to catch one last story.
*Sadly, Bill Murray was not behind me while I was writing this review. But you never know, one day it may happen or it may not. But at the end of the day, it just doesn’t matter.
THE BILL MURRAY STORIES: LIFE LESSONS LEARNED FROM A MYTHICAL MAN is screening as part of the BFI’s London Film Festival 2018. For screening details and ticket availability, please visit their website for more details.