A Very Murray Christmas (2015)

Most Christmas movies aim to show you what Christmas should be; A Very Murray Christmas presents Christmas as it is – boozy, off-key, and slightly disappointing. This hour-long Netflix special is not the kind of light entertainment meant to rally the family around the TV, but it’s a fresh alternative to the cheery, maudlin fare that’s usually on offer this time of year. Bill Murray, playing himself, gathers an assortment of his famous friends and they proceed to sing and sigh the night away. As you wonder what you’re watching, you may also find yourself unexpectedly warmed by this off-beat production.

The story, insomuch as there is one, takes the form of a live Christmas special shot from the Carlyle Hotel in New York. Unfortunately, a massive snow storm has paralyzed the city and threatens the entire eastern seaboard leaving Murray without his superstar guest friends. He refuses to proceed as a solo act, but with minutes until air, his shouty producers (Amy Poehler and Julie White) tell him that he’ll be on the hook financially if he doesn’t go on with the show, and so he does. Chris Rock just happens to be out and about this night, and strolling right past the Carlyle the very moment Murray is thinking of bailing. Murray all but kidnaps the unsuspecting comic, holding him hostage with a camera, a mike, and a matching Christmas sweater. In a sign of what is to come, the two perform a warbly, screechy rendition of “Do You Hear What I Hear?”

To say that not much happens thereafter would be accurate but also underselling the affair. A power outage soon forces the production to shut down, putting everyone in a much merrier mood. Murray makes his way to the lounge with his pianist, Paul Shaffer (Paul Shaffer), and they pass the time singing and drinking with the other trapped guests. One is a melancholy bride (Rashida Jones) and her fiancé (Jason Schwartzman), who see not only their wedding ruined but possibly their entire relationship. Then there’s a lounge singer played by Maya Rudolph, supplementing her musical talent with throaty gusto. Murray also takes to a nameless waitress (Jenny Lewis) who liquors him up and agrees to duet, placating him even further. Meanwhile, the kitchen staff (Phoenix) are roiled by the mountains of food going to waste. But then they ferry it into the lounge, serenade the crowd, and all is well again because there’s nothing food, music, and the company of strangers can’t fix.

That is not the message, but for an hour, it might as well be. The unexpected randomness of it all, including a drunken dream sequence featuring George Clooney and Miley Cyrus, is somehow very fitting for the season. I suspect lonely souls adrift in an urban winter (okay, myself) will find calm in this quiet chaos. The odd assortment actors and singers, the eccentric music program, the muted lighting, all are kindred spirits for someone who doesn’t want to drown in a plume of Christmas feels. Instead, an improvised sing-a-long to the Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York” and the Beach Boys’ “Alone on Christmas Day”, performed here by the French band Phoenix, perfectly capture a different kind of holiday mood.

Despite the strong undercurrent of loneliness and disappointment, there is a lot of joy that breaks through. Murray punctuates his show with some signature quips and classic tunes set the mood, but it’s things like Jenny Lewis’s clear, sweet voice corralling the discordant ones that bring comfort. Or the tenderness of Jones and Schwartzman dueting “I Saw the Light” like they’ve been tricked by friends into making up over a session of karaoke. There’s a lot of low-key happiness that ripples through this special, made better by how unexpected those moments are.

“Do You Hear What I Hear” by Bill Murray and Chris Rock:

“Alone on Christmas Day” by Phoenix:

“I Saw the Light” by Jason Schwartzman and Rashida Jones with cast:

“Fairytale of New York” by cast:

“Sleigh Ride” by Bill Murray and Miley Cyrus:

“Santa Wants Some Lovin'” by Bill Murray and George Clooney:

Released: 2015
Prod: Lilly Burns, John Skidmore
Dir: Sofia Coppola
Writer: Sofia Coppola, Mitch Glazer, Bill Murray
Cast: Bill Murray, Michael Cera, George Clooney, Miley Cyrus, Dimitri Dimitrov, David Johansen, Jenny Lewis, Rashida Jones, Amy Poehler, Chris Rock, Maya Rudolph, Jason Schwartzman, Paul Schaffer, Julie White, Phoenix
Time: 56 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2017