Bill Murray is one of those actors who really made us laugh in the ’80s and ’90s. His name was almost synonymous with many comedic hits that are still referenced today. And while films like Ghostbusters (1984) and Caddyshack (1980) are what Bill Murray is initially known for, he has done well to keep in the acting game even today. As his career has progressed, Bill Murray has strayed somewhat from the goofball comedies of his earlier years, and has instead developed into more of the “serious comic.” While roles like Lost in Translation (2003) are good Oscar bait, his collaborations with film director Wes Anderson have created some truly inspiring performances. Movies like Rushmore (1998), The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), and Moonrise Kingdom (2012) show that, while Bill Murray is still funny, he’s funny with depth. Even though these recent films are all worth watching, this week’s two films highlight the comedy work Bill Murray did in the early part of his career.
The Man Who Knew Too Little
Length: 94 minutes / 1.56 hours
One of Murray’s strengths is playing characters who pretend they know what’s going on. There’s this swagger and confidence that is based on absolutely nothing that is somehow as funny as it is intoxicating. Of course, the key to that kind of personality is definitely optimism. Even if you’re wrong, even if everything keeps pointing back to the fact that you’re clueless, you take it in stride and just keep going. This is a difficult role to play because, if you play it in one direction to heavily, you’ll come off as just plain stupid. If you play it in the other direction, the character will seem so arrogant as to be offputting. The fact that it takes balance to portray the charmingly oblivious is just one of many reasons that Bill Murray is one of the great comedic actors of our time.
Have you ever wanted to live the life of a spy? No, this isn’t the beginning of Total Recall (1990), but instead is the real situation that Wallace Ritchie (Bill Murray) finds himself in after he accidentally walks in on a real crime happening, thinking it’s all an act. He is genuinely impressed with the level of detail and commitment the actors are giving to their performances. Of course, what he doesn’t realize is that he is not participating in the “Theatre of Life,” but has in fact gotten himself entangled in a plot to start the next Cold War. Not wanting to hurt the feelings of the “actors,” Wallace plays along, all the while unaware that the guns, bombs, and implications are all very real. And yet, the optimistic goof manages to survive, save the day, and get the girl.
Length: 101 minutes / 1.68 hours
On the flip side of Bill Murray’s ’90s comedies is the role of a man who knows what he wants, but doesn’t get it. There’s a subtle charm in the deadpan frustration that racks Murray’s character in Groundhog Day (1993). Much of this kind of performance from Murray was later seen in his Wes Anderson collaborations (as mentioned above) when life kept throwing curveballs, and his character didn’t quite know how to deal with it at first. If you want a good example of character growth, look no further than Groundhog Day. The best way you can improve yourself is to tweak all the little mistakes that you make during a day, even if it takes more than one try at that same day to accomplish this. Bill Murray’s comedic timing was spot on in this film that should be watched every February 2nd.
Everyone has those assignments they hate doing. Phil (Bill Murray) is no different. For the last few years, he has been sent out to Punxsutawney to cover Groundhog Day for a local news channel. And while this weatherman despises this annual assignment, he’s about to despise it a lot more. When he finishes the job and goes to sleep for the night, he figures that he’s done with it until next year. That is until he wakes up the next day and has to do the whole thing over again. Naturally, he goes through a few stages to deal with this odd occurrence: using it to his advantage, multiple suicides, and (finally) using the time to better himself. After all, if you’re stuck in February 2nd forever, you might as well make the most of a bad situation.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 monumental Bill Murray performances
Bacon #: 1 (She’s Having a Baby / Kevin Bacon)