Monday, December 22, 2014


In the segment titled "Delirium" in Jim Jarmush's anthology film Coffee and Cigarettes, Wu-Tang Clan members GZA and RZA are hanging out in a café, discussing holistic medicine - as, I suppose, is their wont. An older man dressed in an apron and paper cap offers to top up the coffee they're not drinking and it's Bill Murray. Or, as GZA calls him Bill "Groundhog Day Ghostbustin'-ass" Murray. At the time, I guess it could be a laughable idea that Bill Murray would serve you coffee, but with the contemporary stories of Murray Encounters abounding, it doesn't seem that odd. I'm sure Billy Murray has hotted up a stranger's cup of coffee from time to time.

Now, I love Bill Murray as much as any 30 year old man does. Don't get me wrong. But I don't think anyone's feelings would get hurt if I suggested Bill Murray has not been a great actor. Bill Murray has mostly played entertaining-as-hell shades of Bill Murray. Peter Venkman, Frank Cross, Phil Connors: all chips off the same Murray hunk. Even Murray's comeback roles in Rushmore and Lost In Translation feel like craggier versions of those chips. From time to time, too, Billy Murray pops up in movies - as he does in real life - playing Billy Murray. For nearly three decades - if we're being honest - it's been altered iterations of Bill "Groundhog Day Ghostbustin'-ass" Murray.

Put down your pitchforks. I'm not expressing complaint; just making an observation.

From time to time Bill Murray retires. He took a bit of a break in the mid-90s, and came back stronger as an older, sadder, no less biting Murray. That career renaissance had a lot to do with how new directors saw Murray, how they cast him. He took another little break around 2010, and returned in 2012, seeing himself differently. Hyde Park on Hudson wasn't the greatest movie of all time, but it was good, and Bill Murray was good in it, for the first time since maybe Where The Buffalo Roam - where he played a more accurate Hunter S. Thompson than Johnny Depp's 1998 caricature - fully inhabiting a character. Murray's Harry Truman was still charming, and was certainly elevated by Murray's portrayal, but it was an autonomous charm. In St. Vincent, the titular Vincent similarly benefits from Murray's established charm, but he's his own person, and sometimes feels like "Groundhog Day Ghostbustin'-ass"'s most accomplished roles.

Like Murray himself - or at least how I imagine Murray to actually be - St. Vincent, the story of curmugeon-turned-babysitter, is gruff and grouse-ful, but gradually reveals itself to be sweet and mushy inside. Murray doesn't necessarily turn in a career-making performance, but it does feel like a career rejuvenating performance.

If it turns out that Bill Murray scoops your popcorn when you come see St. Vincent during the holiday break, don't make a big deal about it. As Murray once told a guy he stole a few fries from: no one will ever believe you.

- Andrew


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