We’ve all heard the stories in one form or another. Bill Murray crashed my wedding. Bill Murray joined us for karaoke. The stories are many and varied, and have inspired director Tommy Avallone to investigate their veracity in The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned From a Mystical Man, a new documentary that just had its Midwest premiere in Murray’s hometown of Chicago as part of Cinepocalypse 2018. While I’m not in the Windy City attending the festival, the good people at Cinepocalypse provided me with a screener of Avallone’s documentary that explores the man, the myth, the Murray.
What would on its surface seem a kind of silly trifle, Avallone and co-writer Max Paolucci take with a certain degree of seriousness. They’re not content in simply retelling previously reported stories of unusual interactions with Bill Murray in the wild. Avallone and company travel and interview the actual people, gathering their documented evidence to corroborate their recollections. What emerges is a portrait of a star that is truly unlike any other movie star before or since.
The documentary that runs just a hair over an hour tells a number of incredibly amusing anecdotes. Bill Murray just happens upon a set of wedding photos and inserts himself into a couple’s special day. Bill Murray crashes a college party in London and after admonishing the young tenants, takes it upon himself to do the dishes. Bill Murray enters a bar in Austin, Texas, befriends the bartender, and after catching the Wu-Tang Clan’s GZA perform, return to the bar where he’s an impromptu bartender. Bill Murray arrives at a construction site in New York City and recites poetry to the workers in hard hats. The stories go on and on, and Avallone has done enough research and presents enough evidence that each and every one is astonishingly true.
Where The Bill Murray Stories runs into some shaky territory is when Avallone and company basically tries to infer a motive onto Murray’s oddball antics. At Chicago’s Second City Theater, Avallone interviews a number of improv veterans including Bill’s brother Joel Murray, and reach the conclusion that Murray approaches each and every day with the ethos of improv – yes and. In the world of improvisational comedy, the rule is to follow the lead of whomever you’re performing with. “Yes and” is basically a go-with-the-flow ethos for improv performers, and I don’t know if I can entirely agree with the film’s conclusion that Bill Murray is just living life as if it’s one long improv sketch.
As its title suggests, The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned From a Mythical Man treats its subject as a mythological creature. It does create for an imaginative sequence at the beginning where people are telling tall tales about their encounter with the affable movie star. I’m not entirely sure there’s enough material for The Bill Murray Stories to fully justify its one-hour running time, but it’s often entertaining as people recount unusual encounters with an unusual movie star. The fact is that most everyone loves Bill Murray, and The Bill Murray Stories will help you love him just a little bit more.