by Julian Spivey
I think Bill Murray and writer/director Sofia Coppola were drunk texting one night about what if Murray’s Bob Harris from the Oscar-nominated 2003 film “Lost in Translation” was stranded in New York City during Christmastime in a massive blizzard and somehow this conversation led to an hour-long Christmas special for Netflix.
Now, that might sound like a negative criticism. But, I quite enjoyed the idea and that’s what “A Very Murray Christmas” felt like to me – like the great karaoke scene from “Lost in Translation,” but extended to an hour and filled with nothing but Christmas carols.
Upon viewing the special I saw that the rating system on Netflix only had the special with two out of five stars and I believe the reasoning for this is people saw Bill Murray’s name attached to it and expected a laugh fest. Hell, I kind of expected a laugh fest. But, what we got instead was something more sweet than humorous and I feel like it worked for the Holiday season. This sweetness was more of a gift from Murray than had we gotten a series of sketches instead of Christmas-y sing-a-longs.
The plot of the special is Bill Murray is scheduled to do a televised Christmas special when a massive blizzard hits New York City and none of the A-listers who are supposed to do the special with him can make it in. The early part of this special has a few highlights with the opening of Murray singing “The Christmas Blues” and then corralling the reluctant Chris Rock, also trapped in the city, for a performance of “Do You Hear What I Hear?,” which provides some of the special’s few laughs – mostly just because it’s something you don’t expect out of Rock and the way he plays this up. The blizzard knocks out the power toward the end of the performance and Rock vanishes faster than one of the ghosts from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
The power outage cancels the televised special and allows Murray to sulk away to a local bar where he interacts with a few strangers also stranded in town – this segment really makes the special work. It allows Murray to perform a comical rendition of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with musician Jenny Lewis, playing a waitress at the bar. One of the two best moments of the show also occurs during this segment when Maya Rudolph appears as sort of a Motown washout lounge singer accompanied by three backup singers for a version of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).”
There are two reasons I really loved this performance: 1) I have a massive crush on Maya Rudolph. I just absolutely adore her. 2) Every year for as long as I can remember I’d settle in around this time of year for David Letterman’s annual Christmas episode that featured a performance of this song from Darlene Love. Letterman’s retirement in May meant that this would be the first year without that tradition and it turned out it was something I really needed to hear.
During a performance of The Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York” performed by the cast of the special in the bar an intoxicated Murray passed out on the floor and this lead to the third and final segment of the special. Murray, while passed out, imagines himself in an actual Holiday special (this special, if you can’t tell already, is pretty meta) done right with A-list guests George Clooney and Miley Cyrus. The segment allows Cyrus time to shine vocally on “Silent Night” and a duet of “Sleigh Ride” with Murray, but the true highlight of the segment and the special as a whole is Murray and Clooney performing “Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin’,” with Clooney’s vocals on the chorus while peering through white Christmas trees providing the biggest laughs of the entire special.
Ultimately, “A Very Murray Christmas” is a throwback to old Christmas variety shows filled with songs and merriment, but done in Murray’s unique way. It’s sweetly whimsical and quirky and in a world where Christmas specials can grow tiresome with the same few airing year after year it’s a welcomed addition to the fray.