12 – 56mins – 2015
OVER TO BILL
Even after opening the first handful of doors on my advent calendar and gazing in misty-eyed wonder at the fairy lights now adorning our front porch, I am still struggling to get into the festive spirit this year. So, in an effort to rustle up some cheer, I sat down last Friday to watch my first Christmas special of 2015: Netflix’s exclusive, long-anticipated irreverent take on the variety show starring Ebenezer Scrooge – well, “Frank Cross” – himself, Bill Murray.
After all, if you are in need of cheering up – who ya gonna call?!
Now, I know the Scrooged star is renowned for his dour, grumpy public persona, and I fully expected this brisk, sub-60minute production to play up to that lack of Christmas cheer, and it did (just check his hangdog mug on the poster). But what I wasn’t expecting – particularly given how this was co-written and directed by Murray’s award-winning Lost In Translation director Sophia Coppella – was the bizarre, directionless mess A Very Murray Christmas turned out to be.
Murray plays Murray – unpredictable, eye-rolling irritation and all – preparing to (begrudgingly) host a live televised variety show on December 24th, except a blizzard has meant that none of the big-name guests can make it to New York. Poorly planned and unrehearsed, weather (thankfully) knocks out the electricity mid-way through a cringeworthy impromptu duet with last-minute stand-in Chris Rock.
While not rolling with laughter, I could at least get on board with the farcical, bad-to-worse parody I was watching, famous faces such as Amy Poelher and Michael Cera talking over one another as chaos ensued behind the scenes, but then things take a turn for the surreal…
A now free-for-the-night Murray makes his way to the restaurant at the Carlyle Hotel – piano-playing musical director Paul Schaffer (of The Late Show fame) shadowing his every move; keys and a mic always to hand – where he drums up Christmas spirit by offering philosophical relationship advise to a devastated married couple (Jason Schwartzman and Rashida Jones) whose ceremony has been postponed, while eating the de-frosted wedding feast and rallying the motley bar staff into karaoke.
Alcohol takes its toll and Murray eventually collapses into a dream sequence where he hosts a glitzy, well-oiled high-end variety show featuring A-list guests George Clooney and Miley Cyrus, before he wakes up on Christmas morning for one final piano-led croon with Paul and “concierge” Dimitri Dimitrov and things are brought to an anti-climatic close.
Where to start? This just did not work for me on any level. What was it trying to be? It wasn’t laugh-out-loud hilarious enough to be a tongue-in-cheek parody and it was too weird and not wacky enough to be an out-an-out spoof. There was no real-world resolution to the cancelled TV show catalyst, leaving me baffled by the meandering nature of what passed for a plot.
Furthermore, everyone on screen seems to be having an absolute blast, which left me feeling disconnected from the jokes, like the uncool kid who stands in the corner at a party. The jazz lounge vibe came off as hoity and pompous rather than jovial and unifying, while I couldn’t shake the feeling that Murray Christmas was trying way too hard to be clever and anti-network, but the rebel routine came unstuck due to the metaphoric chip on its shoulder.
Seeing some celebrities play themselves while others played everyday characters was jarring and spoiled the meta construct, while the whole production seemed meandering and ramshackle – people come and go for seemingly no reason, microphone’s shoved in their hands for Christmas renditions of varying degrees of quality and appeal – while the dream sequence felt like music video padding (particularly when Murray exits to let Miley sing solo), but one that calls to mind Billy Mack’s “Christmas is All Around” from Love, Actually. That spoof worked because it was obvious that Bill Nye couldn’t sing and didn’t care. Murray can’t either, but this fact is ignored as he powers through regardless.
In a CR@B Shell: Murray mint? Hardly. Had A Very Murray Christmas been any longer I don’t think I’d have continued to suck it. Bah, humbug.