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Cinepocalypse 2018 Review: The tao of ‘Bill Murray Stories’

 

For the next few days, we’ll be remotely covering the Cinepocalypse Film Festival in Chicago, which is one of the nation’s best genre gatherings. The festival runs through June 28 at the Music Box Theatre, and we highly recommend you go check it out if you’re in the area. Click here for all of our Cinepocalypse coverage.

A great number of folklorish stories about Bill Murray end with him saying these words: “No one will ever believe you.” Usually this comes after he’s supposedly stolen a french fry from a gawking diner’s plate, or after an unexpected tickle fight in an elevator, or after he’s covered an unsuspecting partygoer’s eyes and played peek-a-boo with them. After watching Tommy Avallone’s new documentary, The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned from a Mythical Man, you’ll believe each and every one of them: The director’s collected a bevy of outlandish stories from all over the globe, each involving the famous actor touching an unlikely person’s heart, and even if the documentary is content with being a mediocre hagiography of Murray’s antics, it’s still somewhat powerful to see how he’s empowered and changed those around him just by the virtue of showing up and listening to them.

It’s somewhat of a shame, then, that Bill Murray Stories has a disappointing wrap-around story involving Avallone trying to force his own encounter with the actor, which, at best, is reality TV-tier silliness and at its absolute worst resembles Brian Herzlinger’s My Date With Drew, which if you’ve eradicated the memory of that movie from your brain, you’re a far happier person than I am. Avallone over-involves himself with his subjects, which occasionally gets in their way, and his efforts at providing the film with a narrative arc seem counterintuitive to his message overall. There’s little examination of Murray the person to interrogate the mythic qualities put on display for us here, as well. Similarly, the attempts to explain Murray’s antics are equally unsuccessful — the eventual summation by two journalist talking heads being that his life is nothing more than a “yes, and” improv game — given that the mystery of the circumstance is, you know, why we’re watching the damn thing in the first place.

 
 

But those tales at the heart of this film, especially when told first-hand by those who lived them, are well worth the time spent enduring the bad moments. Murray’s appearance at somebody’s house show is particularly memorable: A band is about to go on, and Murray shows up and asks them if he can play along. They give him a tambourine and he jams out with them during their set, even confronting the police when the neighbors call the cops on the rowdy party-goers. His enthusiasm, even though he never actually participates in the film, is Bill Murray Stories’ key feature, and it’s at its absolute best when Murray is able to communicate, via a Q&A filmed by the filmmaker, how these encounters effect him as well.

This is illustrated by what writer Gavin Edwards terms “the taxi story,” in which Murray hires a cab for a long drive, and gets to talking with the cabbie, who tells the actor that he’s a saxophonist. Murray asks him when he gets to practice, given how much he seems to work, and the cabbie tells him that often doesn’t, but that he keeps his sax in the trunk in case he gets a minute. Murray offers to let him practice, and the two swap seats, as the actor drives the cab and the cabbie gets to practice his music in the back seat. Both of them got where they were going, and both learned something about each other. It’s a beautiful little story, and it’s representative of how Bill Murray Stories manages to shine through all the rough.

The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned from a Mythical Man will hopefully hit theaters later this year.

 
 

Featured image from Meatballs by Paramount Pictures via MoviestillsDB.