London Film Festival 2018 Review: The Bill Murray Stories

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Director: Tommy Avallone

1h 10min | Documentary | 10 March 2018 (USA)

Playing London Film Festival 2018

RATING: ★★★☆☆

In case the title didn’t make it clear enough, director Tommy Avallone is a huge fan of Bill Murray, both the actor Bill Murray (Ghostbusters, Lost in Translation and any number of Wes Anderson films), and the more recent phenomenon known as “Bill Murray who randomly appeared at XYZ place and did XYZ thing”. This light but charming documentary explores the various urban legends around Hollywood’s most elusive star (he has no agent and can only be reached by a near-impossible to get 800 number) that have sprung up in the last decade, boosted by social media, most of which involve Murray suddenly inserting himself into the lives and activities of various citizens of whatever city or country, doing something either random or innocuous, and then strolling off to whatever he fancies doing next. Murray over the years has become a sort of one-man photobomber, or lifebomber might be more accurate. But how many of the stories are true?

Intercutting his own failed attempts to get Bill Murray on the phone with interviews of various Murray encounter ‘survivors’ (backed by smartphone footage, including of Murray throwing shapes on a house party dance floor and reading poetry to construction workers), Avallone’s doc is mostly a collage of funny and offbeat stories, virtually all of which feature the sentence “and then I saw Bill Murray standing there, OMG”. It seems a lot of the tales are genuine; Murray did actually turn up at a house party in Edinburgh and do the dishes for the various guests, and did once tend bar in Austin on the spur of the moment, ignoring customer’s actual drink orders in favour of whatever he felt like pouring (and who would complain?).

There is some attempt at greater depth though: with Avallone devoting some his film’s second half to tracing the desire for these unscripted encounters to Murray’s training on Chicago’s famed Second City comedy improv circuit, while “The Tao of Bill Murray” author Gavin Edwards (who actually got Murray on the record; quietude achievement) suggests these moments are a sort of lighthearted exchange where Murray gets to boost his sense of connection with the everyday and essentially slap himself awake for a few seconds, whilst doing the same for the recipient of his time. Other gushing fans who have had their own brush with the legend see it merely as a way of giving something back; cheering everyday folk with a free Murray moment, a better use of celebrity than yachts or cocaine. Who knows; the big man himself isn’t interviewed

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Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.