The Bill Murray Stories solidifies a modern tall tale
Everybody loves Bill Murray. A lot of people love Raymond, but EVERYBODY loves Bill Murray. It’s pretty much a fact of nature. Find me someone who doesn’t have love for Bill Murray and I’ll show you someone who is probably trolling. But what is it about this oddball comedian that has kept him relevant and popular for multiple decades? What is it that makes him more than just the roles he plays — that makes his mere existence a movement in and of itself?
The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned from a Mythical Man, the latest documentary from filmmaker Tommy Avallone (I am Santa Claus) aims to answer that question through a study of the most fairytale-like aspect of Bill Murray storied career. You see, since the dawn of the internet age, this one-time Ghostbuster has turned his own life into performance art, turning up in strange situations and embracing them in the way that seemingly only he can. Be it crashing a wedding photo, dropping in on a karaoke jam, stealing a french fry from the plate of an unsuspecting fan, or tending bar fat a local dive, there are stories from all over the world chronicling “that one time” the storyteller ran into the great Bill Murray — or to put it better, that one time in which Bill Murray inserted himself into their lives. They all sound too strange to be true (often helped by Bill’s alleged utterance of “nobody will ever believe you”), but more often than not, there’s plenty of photographic evidence in support of each claim.
A less interesting documentary would hunt down Murray himself, and likely fail at getting him to explain why he’s at the center of any of these “tall” tales, but Avallone’s film instead takes a different angle, interviewing with the regular, everyday people whose lives have been enriched by a drop-in from Venkman himself. Few of the talking heads are of celebrities, and those that are don’t big league the production. In mythologizing Murray, it becomes irrelevant just who is sharing their experience, as the truths each storyteller reaches are rarely based in identity. Murray’s lessons transcend identity.
This film truly is about “Bill Murray stories.”
It also serves as a history lesson into how Murray’s comedic stylings have informed his real-world behavior. From footage of his early days at Second City and SNL, through to his unconventional behavior at press events, Avallone shows us the many ways in which Murray’s mastery of improv — of the cardinal rule of “Yes, and” — goes beyond the rulers of performance and into how he chooses to embrace the plot points of a life well-lived. A byproduct of his ongoing adventure being that even those of us who aren’t beloved international celebrities would benefit from following the same path.
The press surrounding The Bill Murray Stories features a photograph Avallone’s own encounter with the mythical man, but the way it all ultimately shakes out is both surprising and thematically resonant. As a history lesson, a love letter to one of the world’s great entertainers, and a piece of entertainment, The Bill Murray Stories is certainly a success, but as a nuanced look into the the intersection between fame, myth, and lived experience it’s a relevant must-see. It’s also very funny.
Mr. Murray, if by some odd chance you are reading this, please know that you can have as many of my french fries as you so desire, unless they are seasoned curlies, in which case you may only have one.
The Bill Murray Stories is showing this Wednesday, October 10 at the Prince Theater.