Is there anything beloved comedian/folk hero to the masses Bill Murray can’t do? He wants to take some artistic leaps and bounds with films like Bring Me No Flowers, St. Vincent, The Grand Budapest Hotel or Lost in Translation? Sure, no problem. We’ll go see those if they’re something he believes in. He’s been around in Hollywood for over four decades. He can afford to stretch himself creatively. He doesn’t have to be in the huge summer blockbusters with too much CGI and not enough soul if he doesn’t want to be. He wants to crash weddings, make memorable off-the-cuff speeches and take selfies with fans off the street? America just loves him all the more. He wants to host his own Christmas variety special on Netflix? Anyone else deciding to do that would be considered ridiculously absurd or overly narcissistic and would probably be laughed right out of the arena. But not Bill fucking Murray.
In A Very Murray Christmas, he manages to pull off something I can’t quite put my finger on, and I’ve sat through it three times now. The holiday special comes across as wonderfully wacky, full of sardonic wit and wisdom, just like Bill himself. From the opening strains of Bill singing a rather melancholy song about having the Christmas blues accompanied by the one-and-only Paul Shaffer on the piano, to the bizarre dream sequence at the end involving guest stars Miley Cyrus and George Clooney, it’s a holiday special like no other. I’m not saying it’s the greatest holiday special or even variety show of all time, but there’s something different about it that warrants at least one watch on Netflix. After all, you don’t want to be the only one around the proverbial water cooler not in the know about this “Christ-mess” special.
Nobody else could get away with the things “the Murricane” does. From yelling at his sister on the phone for calling him while he’s working, to his whiny neuroses about not having any big-name celebrities to guest star on his holiday special because of a huge snow storm, anybody else in this role would be hated almost as much as Ebenezer Scrooge himself. However, Bill has a special way about him that makes you overlook the fact that he’s a bit of a drunken womanizer in the way he handles Jenny Lewis during “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” or the fact that he coerced Chris Rock into singing “Do You Hear What I Hear?” with him when nobody else was able to get through the storm. The camera work on the latter number is truly inspired. As Bill himself pointed out, with five cameras, their chances of getting something right were looking pretty good. See all five cameras hilariously in action and poised on Bill and Chris in their matching Christmas poinsettia turtlenecks in what was one of my favorite scenes.
How on Earth are you going to pull off a live holiday special without any guests? It seems a live special no longer needs to have anybody in attendance. As Amy Poehler’s character explains, it’s easy peasy. The producers can cut from footage of Bill live on the stage to pre-taped reaction shots of his “celebrity guests” laughing uproariously at something he’s just said. If it’s old footage taken from the Golden Globes, or Brad and Angelina are seen working in Africa, who’s going to notice or care? Such a biting commentary on the “magic of Hollywood” and green screens today. One can’t blame Bill for being upset that he has to go through with such a special. Luckily for him, the power goes out and the special is cancelled. However, since he finds himself trapped inside the Carlyle Hotel, the special carries on as you watch Bill have encounters with other guests and staff in the hotel. He likes to cheer people up and solve problems it seems.
Rock band Phoenix performs the seriously catchy “Alone on Christmas Day” with actor/musician Jason Schwartzman filling in on the drums (it was great to see him on drums again – I loved Phantom Planet), while Maya Rudolph does a wonderfully soulful rendition of “Baby, Please Come Home.” Miley Cyrus seriously belts her pipes out on “Silent Night,” “Let It Snow” and “Sleigh Ride,” but my favorite guest star was David Johansen (former lead singer of the New York Dolls, solo artist of the ‘80s Buster Poindexter and Murray’s co-star in Scrooged) as the bartender with the velvety voice. The best musical scene for me was when everyone in the hotel bar sang The Pogues’ Christmas classic “Fairytale of New York.” It was a really beautiful moment that gave me all the feels of a traditional holiday special.
Written by Bill Murray, Mitch Glazer and director Sofia Coppola, A Very Murray Christmas is about an hour in length, but it feels longer than that. It takes a certain caliber of celebrity status to pull off a holiday variety show special. Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, Pee-Wee Herman and Paul Lynde all had that special quality, and really I can’t think of anyone aside from Bill Murray and maybe Jimmy Fallon who would be capable of pulling off one today. (I wasn’t a fan of Lady Gaga’s holiday specials that aired on ABC in 2011 and 2013.) Do yourself a favor and watch this on Netflix today. It’s worth it alone to see George Clooney ridiculously popping out from behind Christmas trees during the delightfully funky number “Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin’”. I could not stop giggling. Bill Murray seems to be the King of Christmas. Murray Christmas, everyone!