The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned from a Mythical Man (2018)

Did you hear about the time when actor Bill Murray showed up unannounced at a student party in St Andrews and washed the dishes?  Or when he showed up randomly at a bar in Charlotte, South Carolina and started serving drinks?  And just before he left, he told the incredulous people he was with that “Nobody will ever believe you”.

The internet, the entire world is full of myths about situations where Bill Murray shows up, does something unexpected, and vanishes.  There’s the occasional photo, some blurry video, but mostly it’s anecdotes and urban myths.  A bit like a modern-day Yeti, nobody’s really sure the truth about these incidents, or even if they happened at all.  Nobody except Bill Murray.

Tommy Avalone’s very funny documentary investigates these myths.  He also tries to figure out why people love and are inspired by these incidents and anecdotes.

The film starts with the director trying – in vain – to get hold of Bill Murray himself.  Famously, Murray has no agent, just a phone number that goes straight to answerphone.  Presumably when he eventually listens to the message he might get back to you if you sound interesting.  Maybe.

Unable to contact Murray directly, Avalone instead tracks down some of the primary witnesses of these bizarre appearances.  Did they really happen?  A couple who have a snap of Bill Murray appearing in their wedding photo shoot.  A group of friends who sang with Murray til 3 a.m. when he crashed their karaoke party.  This is first-hand evidence, even though many of these people still seem in disbelief when they recall their own experiences.

A common characteristic of these incidents is that somehow Bill Murray doesn’t make it all about him; none of the tales have the sense of Murray doing something ‘zany’ to feed his ego or be the centre of attention.  Despite his celebrity he is generous and self effacing, and seems content to leave these people with very happy memories and with the gift of a great anecdote.

Bill Murray, eventually tracked down by director Tommy Avalone

The Bill Murray Stories is a very happy film; its catalogue of Bill Murray incidents is often very funny.

However, it’s more than just than light investigative journalism.  The film contemplates what leads Murray to do these things.  His confidence, spontaneity and playfulness might stem back to his early training in improvisation.  Or perhaps it’s just a reflection of his own personal philosophy, to live for the moment and to find joy in everyday things; not to take things or himself too seriously because ‘it doesn’t matter’.

In the end, it doesn’t matter what Bill Murray’s real reasons are – somewhat fittingly, in this film he remains somewhat out of reach.  Instead, The Bill Murray Stories celebrates the joy of spontaneity, of taking risks and enjoying life.

That’s Bill Murray’s real life lesson.

181010 Bill Murray premiere
Director Tommy Avalone at the UK premiere of The Bill Murray Stories on 10th October at the London Film Festival.  [I’m in the blue shirt to the left of the director’s head!]

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