By Brad Grandrino
There are certain hive-mind mentalities among film fanatics – circle-jerks, as they’re crudely though commonly called. They vary from the repetitive recommendation (“You should see Moon. Have you ever seen Moon? You know what’s a real good movie? Moon.”) to the rabid undercut (“M. Night Shyamalan is making another movie? Say no more: I already hate it!”), and then, of course, incessant celebrity worship.
To many movie buffs, certain celebrities are basically untouchable. For example, we seldom hear an unkind word about Leonardo DiCaprio, to the point that if somebody dares utter something even slightly negative about him, well, they’re in for the internet equivalent of a public hanging.
And while these circle-jerk mindsets are definitely as annoying as they are abundant, some of those precious celebrities whose fans guard them with iron keyboards and cartoon-heart-shaped eyes are deserving of their praise. Case in point: the legendary Bill Murray.
We all love Bill Murray, and for good reason. He’s got the charming personality, the unmistakable deadpan, the on-key sense of humor, and that perfect dry wit. Bill Murray starts to talk and not only do we instantly recognize the voice, but we find ourselves filled with warmth and glee and that “fuck-yeah-it’s-Bill-Murray” feeling we can only get from Bill Murray. And we’ve all heard the stories about Bill showing up at a house party of some random, undeserving peasant, or how he’ll take your fries at Wendy’s and whisper “Nobody will ever believe you” before running off to be Bill Murray somewhere else. It’s that sort of stuff that has made the man achieve godlike status. Nobody does it like Bill. While legendary celebrities die and the world weeps in unison, make no mistake about it: Bill Murray’s death will bring about the apocalypse.
Bearing all of this in mind it stands to reason that I would one day find myself doing a Bill Murray marathon – a Murraython, if you will.
It started back in June when I watched Lost in Translation for the first time – I know, I know. I should’ve been watching it for the twelfth time. But the sad truth is I’ve also missed out on other classics like Stripes and Meatballs, and I’d only ever seen Caddyshack once. Once! Caddyshack, for fuck’s sake! I had to give myself fifteen lashings for that one, so don’t worry – I’ve learned my lesson.
But the lashings weren’t enough. I needed to remedy my relatively Murray-less existence stat. Sure, I’d seen a handful of the classics, but that wasn’t enough – I needed to go full Murray on this one. I would accept nothing less.
Except I’m not going to sit through crap like Larger Than Life. Even the nostalgia coupled with Bill Murray ain’t enough to salvage that massive heap of elephant feces. And I’ll also be skipping Groundhog Day, solely because it’s illegal to watch that movie on any day that isn’t the second of February.
So let’s start with Stripes.
Charming loser John Winger (Murray) loses his job, his car, his apartment and his girlfriend all in the same day. Strapped for cash and finally at rock bottom, he comes up with the goofy idea only a wacky slacker played by Bill Murray could ever come up with: join the army. His pal Russell Ziskey (the late, great Harold Ramis) gets shanghaied into joining him, and slapstick shenanigans unfold accordingly (throw in John Candy and we’ve got a real party).
There are a lot of 1980-something comedies that don’t hold up today and Stripes is not one of them.
Most older comedy flicks tend to remain beloved mainly out of nostalgia. But seeing as how I’ve never seen a single second of the movie in my life, I think it’s safe to say Stripes is a classic for reasons transcending nostalgic value. Stripes is a genuinely funny flick, even by today’s standards. It may suffer a tad from some occasionally weird pacing, where a scene feels more like a randomly-placed sketch than an actual scene (this happened a lot in these early SNL-era movies), but I tend to see that as less of a flaw and more of a charming trait that gives the film some character, like the functioning alcoholic great-uncle whose blatantly inappropriate jokes at Easter dinner are way too silly to dwell on. The movie ain’t flawless, but then, the ‘80s weren’t exactly known for being without their flaws, now, were they?
After watching Stripes I decided to skip ahead a couple decades and check out a more modern Murray. This came in the form of The Monuments Men, directed by and starring George Clooney.
The Monuments Men (2014)
Overall the movie’s good – full of the type of Soderbergh-with-a-dash-of-Coen-esque humor that can be expected from Clooney, and with some genuinely heartfelt scenes that might muster a few tears (“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” – ‘nuff said). The Monuments Men is the mostly true story of a small Allied group at the end of World War II tasked with a mission to save much of the priceless art stolen by Nazis. Think a more realistic Indiana Jones, meaning no bullshit aliens or tribes of people who rip out hearts (unless we’re referring to the Nazis).
Despite the admittedly disappointing fact that my main man Murray doesn’t get a whole lot of screen time, The Monuments Men is a satisfying war biopic that’s as affecting as it is wholesome. There’s less drama than, say, Schindler’s List, but the flick still does a great job depicting how devastating World War II was – and from a brand new perspective.
In The Monuments Men, we get to see a side of the war with which we’ve never really been acquainted – one where WW2 is a stone’s throw from its end and the primary focus is more on the countless pieces of art and culture that could’ve gone missing or been destroyed were it not for the tremendous efforts of this ragtag team. It’s absolutely worth a watch, and, to say the least, deserving of Bill Murray’s presence.
I’ll be honest: I found myself in a bit of an emotional funk after The Monuments Men. Being of German descent and having many Jewish ancestors, World War II flicks tend to stir up something in me – the kind of something, come to think of it, that doesn’t require being of German descent and having many Jewish ancestors in order to feel. It was an overwhelmingly heartbreaking time for the world, and good WW2 motion pictures tend to capture that feeling impeccably.
To adequately yank myself out of this funk, I opted to watch Quick Change next.
Quick Change (1990)
Quick Change is, to date, the only feature film Bill Murray has directed, and sadly it’s a classic that never really gained classic status. I’m not even sure it’s considered a cult classic, though it certainly carries all the necessary ingredients: Bill Murray robbing a bank in full clown attire, Geena Davis displaying her signature brand of radiance, Randy Quaid being Randy fuckin’ Quaid, a gun-wielding Phil Hartman, lousy mobster Stanley Tucci, ambiguously foreign Tony Shalhoub, and that indescribable 1980s New York atmosphere that was still lingering in the early ‘90s. Yes, it’s corny and absurd and nonsensical, but there’s so much beauty in that.
Dismiss, if you will, the inevitable Fridge Logic that’ll kick in after watching Quick Change and just enjoy it for what it is: a fun and goofy little romp. While I would love to have seen more motion pictures with Bill Murray donning the director’s jodhpurs, Quick Change is a nice one-and-done that’s tragically overlooked. I mean, if “Bill Murray robbing a bank in full clown attire” didn’t immediately force you to check out this film, you’re beyond saving.
Back to the modern Murray movies, I put on 2014’s St. Vincent, starring the amazing Melissa McCarthy.
St. Vincent (2014)
Why in the sweet valley high do so many people hate on Melissa McCarthy? She is genuinely a fantastic actress – proving with Gilmore Girls that she can capture our hearts right under our noses with impressive ease. The woman is severely talented. While Kristen Wiig was clearly the Peter Venkman of the recent Ghostbusters reboot, Melissa McCarthy carried the hell out of the movie (which, for the record, was wonderful). It’s been a while, I think, since we’ve seen an overweight actor like John Candy or Chris Farley who’s uniquely gifted comically, and I think that Melissa McCarthy fits that bill.
That might sound like an insult, but if you know anything about John Candy or Chris Farley you’ll know I mean nothing but praise. Give McCarthy a break, guys, and give her a chance. She’ll wow you. I guarantee it. And her performance in St. Vincent further confirms her greatness.
Bill Murray, meanwhile, plays Vincent, a bitter Brooklynite Bukowski type who finds an unlikely friend in the son of his new next door neighbor (McCarthy), Oliver. While Vincent “babysits” Oliver after school he offers the kid guidance in the way only a Murray character could, teaching him how to break a bully’s nose, the ropes of horse race betting, and wise quips like “Don’t ever become a pencil-pusher, kid: they’re spineless.”
But, of course, there’s a darker and much sadder side to Vincent, and Murray nails every facet of the character’s complicated personality. Drizzled with a solid soundtrack and delightful performances throughout, St. Vincent is one of those more recent flicks that somehow managed to fly under the radar despite being supremely enjoyable. Naomi Watts and Chris O’Dowd being among the already impressive cast should’ve been enough to win us all over.
But alas, sometimes the best movies are the ones we have to hear about from some loser who’s decided to lock himself in his room and binge Bill Murray flicks for a week.