What I admire about you is your ability to evolve. I’ve watched you since Saturday Night Live from the 70s and at 63, you are still funny. Bill, you’ve managed to do it all from stupid comedy like Caddyshack to drama like Hyde Park on Hudson. You are smart enough to know there are many ways to get a laugh. Those comedians who rely on one technique fall away in popularity while you have managed to transcend into new territory. Through the decades, you have consistently made me laugh armed with a frozen expression and a sly remark.
The bottom line is you are entertaining. You don’t offend me or smack me in the face with a joke like Jim Carrey or Robin Williams or Seth Rogan or fifty others. Your smirk says it all. You laugh at us, enjoying your own private joke and the naked crowd before you is clueless. That kind of irony makes you brilliant. Who would have thought Bill Murray was the sharpest tool in the shed when he looks like an idiot?
The secret to your success is Wes Anderson. You traded in your goofy self for characters in dark comedies and satiric situations where your smirk radiates. We all know Wes likes to pose people like portraits with great colors. This fits your deadpan personality perfectly.
The relationship you have with Wes Anderson brought you grace in your fifties. The ensemble casts are quirky and wonderful. You’ve been in all of Anderson’s films: Rushmore (1998), The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), The Darjeeling Limited(2007, Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), Moonrise Kingdom (2012), and The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). Could Wes Anderson do without starring you? Probably, but why would he since you both make each other look stellar.
Other Great Ones
Your ability with dark comedy and your acting garnered respect from everyone in Lost in Translation (2003) written and directed by Sofia Coppola. It’s the stuff that catapulted Sofia’s career and we all hope it is not her one-hit-wonder. Your chemistry with Scarlett Johansson was mesmerizing, and it solidified you as a symbol of the man who went through life more or less doing what he was supposed to and look what all that passivity got him? Loneliness, apathy, and remorse. Bill, it’s been your calling card ever since.
Hunter S. Thompson is as weird as it gets, and you played him perfectly as Gonzo. In 1980, it was an outrageous time; it reminds me of the hedonism in The Wolf on Wall Street. Here was another crazy person from the 80s that was way out of control. Who else but Bill Murray to play the legendary journalist? Johnny Depp did a good job in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but maybe people should start with the 80s version with this wacky comedy.
Harold Ramis and Saturday Night Live
How many Saturday nights as a teen did I watch you play the sleazy nightclub singer? You and the original set were fantastic. Harold Ramis was the leader of your pack and held you all together. The 2014 Oscars featured a segment where you paid tribute to your friend and comedian/writer/director, Harold Ramis who passed away this year. Even though you didn’t see eye to eye during the 1993 classic, Ground Hog Day, you reconciled with this statement to TIME following Ramis’ death:
“Harold Ramis and I together did the National Lampoon Show off Broadway, Meatballs, Stripes, Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, and Groundhog Day. He earned his keep on this planet. God bless him.”
The 80s and 90s made you commercially popular and established your career. I think you went from Ramis to Anderson. I think you need a collaborator, a co-conspirator, and your relationship with Ramis had a beginning, a middle, and an end and Anderson took over after your estrangement with Ramis. Who was the producer/director of all those goofy hits that made you famous in the first place? Ivan Reitman.
I thought you did a great job as FDR in the 2012 biopic Hyde Park on Hudson. You and Laura Linney were fine together as Franklin D. Roosevelt and the secretary/caretaker relationship that lasted over 30 years. The film had its holes, but I thought it showcased a side of FDR in a humane way–with a sense of humor–and you got him. I liked it far more than your critics.
You can read the review I wrote about the film here:
You have a hit-and-miss record over the last forty years. I appreciate that you are willing to take risks and try new projects. I think you are great with Wes Anderson and love your dark comedies. Hang in there, Bill, and thanks for making me laugh.
Your Favorite Fan
Brilliant! You expressed all the reasons (and beautifully!) that I adore Bill Murray. Murray is the guy who looks sleazy on the outside, who sometimes often comes across as sleazy in a film character or TV sketch, but then – suddenly! – takes you aback with his humanity and ultimate redemption.
‘Ground Hog Day’ always gets to me; he’s such a cad initially, and by the story’s end, he’s the guy (or gal) you’d like to be. He achieves redemption. This is true in some of his best films.
I always loved his sleazy night club performer sketch. But there’s little I don’t like about Bill Murray. I recently saw ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ (I liked the movie) and ‘The Monuments Men.’ The moment when Murray’s character is listening to the song ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas’ sung by family members in ‘The Monuments Men could have been sappy. Murray’s ability to handle lightly and deftly the bittersweet transforms the moment into one that is haunting and memorable. And honest.
I think he’s quite wonderful!
Hiya Kate, thanks again for your thoughts. A lot of people did not like Monuments Men and I can understand why, the disjointed pacing and script made it hard to care for any of the characters (except for Cate Blanchett’s role) but I quite liked the film anyway. It was an angle about WWII I had not known before and that fact alone had me sit up and pay attention to the story. I adore art, so I understood the importance of the plot. I thought it a weird cast but it was the partnership between Bill and crusty Bob Balaban that was comedic in soft way. Their banter and Bill’s deadpan delivery worked. Yes, to the shower scene with “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”. That was handled and executed well. I agree!
Interesting post Cindy! Enlightening summary summary of his work. Which movie is your fave ( if you cany narrow it down, then 2 or 3 faves, but no more!)
Hi Barbara, thanks for asking. Hm. Groundhog Day, Rushmore, and Lost in Translation. What about you? Did you like him in Monuments Men?
Based on reviews and RT, I didn’t see Monuments Men in the theater and I haven’t gotten to rent it yet. My favorite three: Groundhog Day, Scrooged (stupid comedy alert) and one of my favorite movies, The Royal Tanenbaums. I also loved it when he showed up in “Zombieland” (comedy with Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Stone, Abigail Breslin.) I have to see Lost in Translation again for that to be in the running!
He has an ornery rep, but many of his movies are ensemble casts, like all the Wes Andersons.
Beautifully executed tribute!
Bill Murray has been incredibly under rated. One of the original SNL alums to actually hone and polish his talents in countless films. Instead of using it as a resume filler in lesser efforts.
Getting his kind of slimy “Lounge Lizard” facade down early on. While changing with the times in ‘Where The Buffalo Roam’ (Still prefer his Dr. Hunter Thompson to Johnny Depp’s later attempt) and ‘Stripes’. Fading from the spotlight, only to return with ‘Caddyshack’ and ‘Meatballs’.
Branching into lighter comedies like ‘Lost In Translation’ and ‘Moonrise Kingdom’. And dramas I’m curious to see.
🙂 Kevin. We agree again. I’m glad you enjoyed my tribute. It’s not easy in Hollywood to stay married to the pictures for many decades. Usually stars shine bright then flicker dead. It saddens me that stars spend their money trying to look 25 when they should grow into new roles. Their fans will love them for it. Not the case with Bill. He looks every bit 63 years old and seems content about it.
Could you sign my name to this, Cindy!!
LOL. I’m glad you feel the same way as I 🙂
That whole crew on SNL back then had electricity!!
I know! I miss Gilda and Belushi. Remember Mr. No? Ha!
What more can I say about Murray that you haven’t already captured? He’s just comedy gold but also a great dramatic actor. The king of sarcasm!!
Hi Mark, I appreciate your support; your opinions mean something to me, buddy. I’m glad you like Bill Murray, too. Sarcasm is gold –he has created a niche working with Wes. I like his quiet approach to getting a laugh. 🙂
Great letter/post, Cindy. And agreed – Murray is at his best when working with a director who can carefully guide him. And he’s a lot of fun to watch. Always has been.
Thank you, Josh, he’s become quite the staple now with Wes Anderson. I bet Bill could find work into his late 70s with Anderson.
We can only hope. 🙂
Oh I missed this post! I LOVE Bill Murray! I think one of my fave roles is in the lesser-known Larger Than Life w/ the big elephant, but he’s generally fun to watch in anything. I’ll give Hyde Park on Hudson, I don’t always agree w/ the critics anyway.
I think you might like it. It’s a period piece, and he did a great job being FDR. I liked it.
Not everybody knows how to use Murray – who can be brilliant.
He looks a bit lost in Moonlight Kingdom. He just wasted in that. And Budapest. Not for him to work with.
GroundHog Day is already a Classic.
I put Lost in Translation up there too. (some great music in there also)
I’ve watched The Razor’s Edge several times. Very under-rated.
Broken Flowers was a nice movie …
He’s making his mark. But the ONE role that could gain an Oscar eludes him.
Will it find him?
Hi JC: Yes, to all your comments. In Moonrise and Budapest Hotel his role was so small, he didn’t either have a chance to flush it out or the script was too small for him. Did you see him in Monument’s Men? Also, I reckon the FDR role he played was as big and “Oscar Contender” as he could imagine. I hope he keeps going. I’ve never seen Razor’s Edge. Why not? Shame on me. Thanks for reminding me.
I liked ‘Hyde Park on Hudson’ too, probably my favourites though are ‘Ghostbusters’ and ‘Groundhog Day’: how predictable is that! SD
It’s what you think of if you are over 40 and say “Bill Murray”. I think the younger set might associate him more with Wes Anderson films. Maybe that’s a hasty generalization.
My love affair with Bill continues. Can’t believe His last film was not at our theaters for long at all. I’m so glad I got to watch it on Showtime .. Twice , ❤️Ed it so much , I had to download all the music from the movie, I’m bad with remember names, . Hint.. He babysat the kid next door !
I love him, too. Thanks Kim! St. Vincent was the film. He plays sardonic deadpan like no other.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Yep!! That’s it