With Bill Murray coming to town this weekend for a show at the Holland Center, it got us thinking, naturally, about our favorite Bill Murray movies. And also the difference between the best Bill Murray movie and the best movie that Bill Murray is in (There is a difference.)
And so resident Bill Murray movie buffs Micah Mertes, Kevin Coffey and Betsie Freeman discussed their favorites and explored what it is exactly that makes Bill Murray so endlessly appealing.
What's the best Bill Murray movie?
Micah: Everyone knows that Bill Murray is one of the funniest people alive and that he’s starred in some of the best comedies ever made. But here’s a question that would be tough to definitively answer: What is the “best” Bill Murray movie?
My favorite movies of his include “Rushmore” and “Lost in Translation,” and he’s brilliant in both of them, but I’m not sure either movie best reflects his filmography. He’s been essential to the success of movies like “Ghostbusters” and “Tootsie,” “Caddyshack” and “Kingpin,” which are some of the funniest comedies ever made. Yet they’re not exclusively "Bill Murray movies," even if he steals the show in each of them.
If I were forced to name one, I’d say that the best Bill Murray movie is “Groundhog Day,” which ended up being an accidentally perfect fusion of film and performer. “Groundhog Day” is the key to understanding Murray’s career — the bridge between his manic, cruelly funny comedic roles and the melancholy mode he tapped into later in his career. And it's also just a masterpiece.
What say you two? What is the best Bill Murray movie?
Kevin: My personal favorite is "Meatballs," and it's truly for personal reasons. Back when I was a kid, we spent a lot of summer nights at my uncle's lake house. In the basement, there was a Betamax. (Remember Beta tapes?) It only had a few movies, most of them stuff no kid would want to watch. But then there was "Meatballs."
My sister and I must have watched it hundreds of times. We'd stay up late watching “Meatballs” when we were supposed to be asleep. We'd chant, "It just doesn't matter!," right alongside Tripper, Murray's goofball lead camp counselor character who also has a heart of gold. It was a great kids movie — all about summer camp and getting into trouble and goofing off. But it's also about being the underdog, not fitting in and fighting against the cool-kid jerks from the camp across the lake.
Enough viewings cemented it in my mind as the Bill Murray role. Tripper is mostly a goof, pulling practical jokes, but in his first film role, Murray showed he can be funny and hold dramatic weight at the same time.
Betsie: As far as "best" Murray movies go, I'd have to agree with "Groundhog Day," which also happens to be my second fave Murray movie and in my top 10 of movies overall. I love, love, love the message: That people are happier when they forget about themselves and think about others. (Yes, I am a very sentimental girl.) And it's really fun to watch Murray's weatherman character evolve from a total jerk to an empathetic human being. He's brilliant throughout. The film's catchphrases have become part of the vernacular at my house: "Don’t drive angry! Don't drive angry!" and "I'm a god. Not the God."
Micah, I never thought about "Groundhog Day" being the bridge between his smartass roles and his later, more melancholy roles, but that makes perfect sense when applied to my favorite Murray movie: "St. Vincent." (Remember, I'm a mushy sentimentalist.) I was really moved by his portrayal of a lost soul who inadvertently and grudgingly helps a single mom and, especially, her son.
And I have to mention "Tootsie" just because it's quintessential Murray. Another of my all-time favorite films, and it wouldn’t have been the same without Bill.
Question: What about "What About Bob?" It is the rare Murray movie that I loathe.
Mertes: I also love "Tootsie" and love Murray in "Tootsie," but I have to admit I've only seen parts of "What About Bob?" From what I can recall, I thought it was kind of shrill and mean. Like plenty of Bill Murray movies ("Larger Than Life" or "Rock the Casbah," for instance), I just kind of put this one in a drawer and forgot about it. Speaking to the later, more dramatic roles, I think "Rushmore" ended up being one of the key inflection points in Murray's career.
One of the things that made Murray such a singularly great comic performer was that he never seemed to care that much about what he was doing. Some of his funniest work — in "Tootsie," for instance — has him doing almost nothing. Just deadpanning to Dustin Hoffman's frantic performance.
"Rushmore," and later "Lost in Translation," tapped into Murray's minimalism for a more dramatic effect. And there are scenes in each film where he uses just his hangdog face to convey a lifetime of disappointment. It's extremely difficult to do so much by doing almost nothing at all. That's my favorite version of Murray. The one who doesn't even seem to be trying.
Kevin: Murray's often not the driving character, even if he's the main character. Take "Ghostbusters." On the four-man team, Peter Venkman is the central character and virtually the only one who gets solo screen time. But Murray spends the movie joking and goofing while the other guys actually move the plot along.
My other favorite Murray flick is "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou." His character is an arrogant jerk to pretty much everyone, but as usual, you find out he has a sentimental side and then he helps save the day. That movie also has some of the most subtly funny lines Murray has ever uttered. The part where he screams "Esteban was eaten!," it kills me.
Betsie: It's been a long time since I saw "Ghostbusters," but in my mind, it's all Bill Murray. I still remember his shtick, especially in scenes with Sigourney Weaver. That was his movie.
And Kevin, I loved your "Meatballs" story. Even mediocre art is more meaningful when it evokes good memories. "Meatballs," however, isn’t mediocre. I've always thought it was one of Murray's overlooked gems, and every time I see it in the TV listings, I try to watch. I went to lots of summer camps when I was a kid, and I remember thinking how cool it would have been if he were a counselor (probably not a possibility at Camp Fire Girl camp, but a girl can dream.)
Agree with Micah on "Bob." I couldn't find any likable characters in that mess: Bob was annoying, the psychiatrist (Richard Dreyfuss) was more annoying, and the doc's family was feckless and clueless. The other Murray movie I despise (this makes my husband crazy) is "Stripes." I know that puts me in the minority, especially with fellow baby boomers. But really, yuck.
MICHAEL BOEHNLEIN/THE WORLD-HERALD
Our favorite Bill Murray movies
1. “Groundhog Day”
4. “Lost in Translation”
6. “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou”
10. “Broken Flowers”
3. “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou”
4. “What About Bob?”
5. “Groundhog Day”
9. “St. Vincent”