Bill Murray is an elusive character, but has two films out this year. Nicholas Barber picks his eight most satisfying roles...
From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, May/June 2012
1980 Caddyshack (above)
This zany golfing comedy now seems as staid and self-satisfied as, well, a golfing comedy, but it has sparks of genuine anarchy, all courtesy of Bill Murray. As one of nine children, and then a regular on “Saturday Night Live”, he’d learnt how to stand out in a crowd, and he did so here by playing an unhygienic, snickering weirdo with a lop-sided jaw and a Stallone slur. Who knew that he would ever be revered as the coolest man in the movies?
The screenplay was written by two of the Ghostbusters—Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd—but they were generous enough, and wise enough, to give all the best lines to the third, and he paid them back with a comic tour de force. Whether he’s declaring his love for Sigourney Weaver or watching her metamorphose into a demonic panther, he’s a human Bugs Bunny for whom everything’s a joke. Aykroyd has called him “The Murricane”, but onscreen he’s the half-closed eye of the storm.
1993 Groundhog Day
Harold Ramis co-wrote the first three entries in this CV, and he directed two of them. One of those, “Groundhog Day”, is as close to perfect as film comedy gets. Not only does it ask the most fundamental of philosophical questions, it also yanks its cynical hero out of his wise-guy arrogance and into despair (he commits suicide three times). Murray is up to the challenge. By the end, we can actually believe that he’s capable of loving someone as fluffy as Andie MacDowell.
After a few duds (“Mad Dog and Glory”, “Larger than Life”), Murray could have retreated to TV like Chevy Chase, or vodka marketing like Aykroyd. Instead he rebooted his career with a series of indie movies as wry as his own persona, starting with Wes Anderson’s “Rushmore”. Now an Anderson regular, he turns up in “Moonrise Kingdom” as the father of a runaway. Typically, he doesn’t seem too bothered.
2003 Lost in Translation
Even in his 1980s superstardom, Murray was more comfortable in ensembles than as a leading man. In Hollywood, the hero must be dead set on achieving his goals, whereas Murray prefers to slouch on the sidelines and smirk. But what if he were transplanted to a country where there was no one to provide him with feedlines or laugh at his wisecracks? Sofia Coppola shows that he’d spiral into a chasm of loneliness. While getting to bond sweetly with Scarlett Johansson, and almost winning an Oscar.
2005 Broken Flowers
Murray’s progression from comedy wild-man to enigmatic art-house godfather reached its logical conclusion when he starred in Jim Jarmusch’s post-modern mystery, and refined his underplaying to an almost catatonic level of zen-like stillness. So how come we can’t stop watching him? Maybe it’s because when we glimpse a flicker of emotion on that crumpled, pock-marked face, we feel as if we’re in on a private joke which no one gets except him and us. And a few million other fans.
The king of uproarious cameos (see also “Little Shop Of Horrors” and “Kingpin”) agreed to a five-minute guest appearance only after Jean-Claude Van Damme said “non”—and yet it’s the high point of the film. When four survivors of an undead apocalypse seek shelter in his baroque Beverly Hills mega-mansion, he’s warm and welcoming, dressing up as a Ghostbuster and mocking his own voice-work in “Garfield”. After years of what Murray has called “sad movies”, how tantalising to see him in a full-scale comedy again.
2012 Hyde Park on Hudson
Received wisdom says Murray would rather play a practical joke or a round of golf than a major role, so it’s exciting to find him venturing out of his comfort zone for this forthcoming drama by Roger Michell. He is Franklin D. Roosevelt, so he won’t be able to rely on his mannerisms – assuming the 32nd president of the USA wasn’t a deadpan comedy genius.
Moonrise Kingdom is out now in Britain and America
Nicholas Barber is a film critic, and former rock critic, for the Independent on Sunday