I have to admit I have a complicated relationship with Bill Murray. Or rather, a complicated lack of relationship.
It was Sept. 7, 2014, two days after the Toronto International Film Festival had celebrated “Bill Murray Day.” St. Vincent had just had its world premiere. I was talking to director Michael Winterbottom, but my phone was buzzing – publicists warning that Murray was about to ditch his interview schedule and skip town.
I wasn’t about to walk out on Winterbottom, but by the time I wrapped up, Murray had walked out on me. And so every time I hear a story about the celebrity showing up at a random house party, dropping into a softball game or photo-bombing an engagement, I imagine a producer, a restaurant host or maybe his dentist looking at the clock and thinking: Where is he?
Director Tommy Avallone’s documentary, windily titled The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned from a Mythical Man, collects some of Murray’s famous quirky interactions with fans and even non-fans, like the time a woman was troubled that this “homeless looking man” had joined her kickball game, until a friend told her who it was.
It’s a thin premise but a fun one, as ordinary folks, sometimes backed by their social media photos and videos, talk about the time that Murray joined a karaoke party and then charmed the police that came on a noise-complaint call, or when he showed up at the under-construction Poets House in lower Manhattan to read free-verse to the builders.
And I couldn’t help but wonder if, back in the pre-digital age, some celebrities had perhaps acted the same way, but without leaving a social-media record. Maybe Benjamin Disraeli played kick-the-can with street urchins, or Mary Shelley would wander in a pub and serve beer. We’ll never know.
But what we learn from The Bill Murray Stories is that the same whimsy that prompts him to take over driving duties from a cabbie so the guy can practice his saxophone in the back seat means that he may not be able to meet his Uber driver every time either. Something may come up.
The moral of the story is that there’s only so much Bill to go around, and we have to be at peace with that. The film features a brief interview with a guy who didn’t go to the karaoke party, and a longer one with a Vanity Fair journalist who was chasing him the same day I was. She never got to him either. “Reporting on Bill Murray is kind of like jazz,” she remarks. And you can’t force jazz.
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