SXSW REVIEW: THE BILL MURRAY STORIES Is On a Desperate Quest For Meaning

Director Tommy Avallone compiles personal accounts to explore the significance behind Murray’s mythology.

“I live a little bit on the seat of my pants, I try to be alert and available ... for life to happen to me. We’re in this life, and if you’re not available, the sort of ordinary time goes past and you didn’t live it. But if you’re available, life gets huge. You’re really living it.” -- Bill Murray

It’s pretty natural to get starstruck whenever you see a celebrity. As a cinephile, it’s extremely refreshing to meet one of your favorite stars and find out that they are just as lovable in real life as they are on screen. This is the case multiple times over with Bill Murray. Over the past few years, the Caddyshack and Ghostbusters star has been spotted doing anything from cleaning dishes at a house party to crashing wedding photos. These illusive encounters enticed director Tommy Avallone to seek out the man himself and document those who have previously crossed his path in hopes to find meaning behind his antics.

“No one will ever believe you”. This is the prominent phrase Murray has apparently whispered into the ears of some people he has encountered. Avallone wants to believe them, all of them. Traveling across the United States and even to London, he seeks to hear the tall tales and find not just truth, but the meaning in Murray’s offbeat interactions with the public. Intrigued by the absurdity and randomness of it all, Avallone seems perplexed as to why any celebrity would want to engage with fans the way Murray does. First, he tries to seek Bill out himself. However, without an agent or publicist that is deemed quite difficult. All he has is a 1-800 number in which you’re able to leave a message as he very rarely, if ever, answers. Even Sofia Coppola attempted to call the number to get him onboard for Lost in Translation, and the connection never came to fruition. Instead, she networked through friends to reach him and offer a role she doubted he would even show up for. Watching the footage of Avallone call the line multiple times over for months on end was mildly cringe-worthy. The air of desperation to figure out why Bill acts the way he does feels invasive and mildly obsessive to observe at first. The film makes me empathize with Murray, because I can’t imagine anyone wanting to be hounded like that, celebrity or not.

The majority of the documentary consists of interviews with people who have a Bill Murray story. Speaking in a relaxed vibe, as if you’re sharing a beer, they detail what happens and what their own interpretation to the meaning behind his intentions are. Parts of the film detail his career in improv and how that form of comedy translates into his real life by living in the moment and embracing the ‘yes and’ mentality for sharing experiences with individuals. Murray maintains an importance on being present and always open to encounters while making each person feel special and valued while in his presence. My favorite story is about a man who drives a taxi over twelve hours a day and never has time to practice playing the saxophone. On a long ride from the airport, Murray learns this and asks where his saxophone is. Being told that the man keeps it in his trunk, Murray winds up driving himself to his destination while the taxi driver sits in the backseat and plays his saxophone. Of course, they also stop for BBQ, and he plays in the restaurant, as well.

There’s this sense of love and appreciation that Murray seems to emit for those who meet him. He’s been known to pull out a wad of cash to buy beer for the group at a house party, sing Happy Birthday to fans’ family members, recite poetry in public, and even take fans to a Charleston RiverDogs baseball game, a team for which he is part owner. The stories are interesting and amusing to have compiled into one place as opposed to browsing Youtube or reading Reddit threads online. However, Bill Murray is not directly involved in this documentary. There’s no interview with him personally, and the director snags a picture with him at a game, but it seems forced to the point of being a little awkward. The score is playful and at times ethereal towards the end, during a recap of how impactful his actions can be in terms of a life lesson.  Additionally, the abundance of interviewees is edited well and provides a well-rounded perspective on Bill Murray himself and his behavior.

I can appreciate what he is going for with the film, but it also makes me wonder if we are so jaded as a society that the fact that a celebrity uses their fame for fun, innocent, and kind encounters is just too difficult to believe. I get that it’s rare, but it’s unfortunate that it is so dumbfounding at the same time. The Tao of Bill Murray author Gavin Edwards is one of the subjects that is interviewed by Avallone, who seems to share the same intrigue in the stories, but goes deeper into the meaning of his interactions. David Allen of CNN’s Wisdom Project contributes interesting footage compiled from his past films that explain Murray’s dogma and approach to life through the roles the he chooses and improvised lines he throws into films. The notion that he embodies a sense of spontaneity both on set and off is a fresh take on Murray’s career.

While the documentary is informative from a story standpoint, there lacks a sense of comedy and a quality that would properly mirror Bill himself. Most recently, Bill was spotted in Austin, TX on Saint Patrick’s Day, reciting a poem entitled “Dog” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti before the premiere of Isle of Dogs. So, the guy is still at it and continues to bring random joy to the public basically everywhere he goes. The message behind Bill’s impulsive interactions are worth noting, and takeaways that can benefit society, especially while many people are tapped out and hiding behind their screens while avoiding meaningful connections. For that reason alone, it’s worth checking out the documentary on the man that is basically America’s spirit animal and rightfully so.