Instead of blandly charting Bill Murray’s career/ private life and attempting to fathom the man behind the roles, writer/director Tommy Avallone’s documentary opts to study the actor/comic’s mostly off-screen, seldom seen side, involving impromptu encounters with random members of the public. Murray doesn’t just coldly shake hands, sign autographs and pose for selfies like most A-listers. In recent years he has infiltrated/ created moments with passing people. Colouring random lives in attempt to raise smiles and make life more interesting.
Many of his encounters have become folklore/ the stuff of legend, like Bigfoot sightings, while others have been caught on iPhones/ cameras and now amassed into this hilarious and inspiring documentary. Outside of his film career, Murray has crashed social gatherings like parties and football matches, bar tended in clubs, hijacked concerts (and cleaned up after them), read poetry to Polish construction works, taken random strangers to baseball games and showed up at weddings to give the bride and groom life advice. Murray may very well just be doing this, to amuse himself (which is doubtful), but there is no denying the overwhelming joy felt by all as a result of the effort he makes with others.
Avallone’s film tells of most of those magical moments and more, showing Murray in his natural habitat, taking his laid back mantra to the streets in attempt to instill happiness in strangers and “wake people up”. Interview snippets are spliced with hysterical clips and pics of Murray in blasé/ nonchalant mode while the fans narrate tales of their encounters. Avallone lets the footage and interviewees do most of the work, but strengthens his film with sub-stories to make it more than just a talking head account/ clip montage. After tracking down Murray’s phone number, Avallone struggles to leave a succinct voicemail, then partly charts his own mission to meet him.
The Bill Murray Stories mostly sees the writer/ director interview those who have had one of these special encounters, while impatiently waiting for a reply to his voice message, that may never come. Avallone also links Murray’s mantra/ movement back to past career choices and characters he has played, including those in the likes of Meatballs, Caddyshack and The Rivers Edge, and slyly concludes that Murray may not just be a legend (which pretty much everyone agrees on), but also a God (not the God). One interviewee refers to Murray as a “unicorn”. While that is probably not the case, The Bill Murray Stories succeeds in increasing our love for the man/ legend/ unicorn/ even more and hope that he will continue spreading joy in his own extraordinary way.
The 62nd BFI London Film Festival runs from 10 – 21 October. Tickets available now from www.bfi.org.uk/lff