Film Reviews

Review: ‘The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned from a Mythical Man’

Hot Docs 2018


The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned from a Mythical Man
USA. 70 Minutes
Dir. Tommy Avallone.
Special Presentations (International Premiere)

Bill Murray’s habit of engaging with strangers in unusual ways — joining karaoke parties, taking a cab driver for a ride or reading poetry to construction workers— has been extensively chronicled on the internet and confirmed by the star. As Murray told an audience at the Toronto International Film Festival’s Bill Murray Day in 2014, “it’s something I do consciously — when I’m conscious.”

Is Murray a subject worthy of an entire documentary? Maybe just a short, facile one. Fan and filmmaker Tommy Avallone’s moderately-diverting first-person investigation begins in a conventional way: Avallone attempts to reach his idol by leaving voice messages on Murray’s secret 1-800 number (the actor has no agent or publicist) but gets nowhere. Instead, he decides to talk to people involved who experienced Murray manifestations.

This is the sort of low-budget, personal film where plane tickets may be the biggest expense. We start in Charleston, South Carolina, where Murray owns part of a minor league baseball team and a restaurant. Here, Avallone interviews Raheel, a photographer who took a couple’s engagement picture, which Murray joined. In Austin, Texas, bartender Trevor recalls the day Murray came in for a drink and a chat, then returned and took over the bar, serving tequila shots to everyone, whether they ordered them or not. One trip goes all the way to England, but in each case the story is similar. Everyone who met Bill was surprised and left with a warm feeling.

Avallone offers some tentative pokes at further insight. Avallone’s interviews David Allen, who writes a column for CNN called The Wisdom Project, which compares Murray to a Buddhist teacher, and Rolling Stone’s Gavin Edwards, who compiled a book of Murray’s fan encounters called The Tao of Bill Murray. We also hear from Murray’s colleagues at Second City Theatre in Chicago who emphasize the improv principle of saying “yes” to any situation.

The best insight comes from director Peter Farrelly, who points out that Murray’s pop-in visits aren’t about putting on a performance but having a chance to play with his fans. There’s no need to invoke Eastern philosophy to understand how it’s a creative kick for him to slip out of his celebrity bubble.

Bill Murray Stories screens:
-Wed, May 2 at 10:30 AM at TIFF Lightbox
-Sat, May 5 at 3:30 PM at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema
-Sun, May 6 at 10:00 AM at TIFF Lightbox

Hot Docs runs April 26 to May 6. Please visit hotdocs.ca for more info.

Visit the POV Hot Docs Hub for more coverage from this year’s festival!