Hooray! A rare treat for me – a Bill Murray film that I hadn’t seen before, Passion Play (2010). Excitement was in the air, despite the fact that I had postponed watching it for several months. Maybe I was wary because of the bad reviews, maybe I was dreading the jazzy trumpet action. Somehow it had slipped my mind. Maybe I had people to see and places to be late from. You know how it is. Eventually, I mustered the courage to watch the damn thing, despite what I had read. So, excitement yes, but of the nervous kind where it could really go either way. Possibly not the way I liked.
I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you, but I might as well try anyway. There’s a jazz trumpet playing junkie, a gangster with some daddy issues and an ironic name, a pretty girl with wings who might or might not be an angel but certainly has no other talents and a few other sidekicks of questionable importance to the film. The trumpet guy, the gangster and even one of the sidekicks want the girl. There’s a cheat ending, although not really because if you’ve ever seen any films before, you will most likely know what’s up from the beginning.
Bill Murray is in a supporting role in this film. Unlike in many other films, that’s where he stays as well. I wish I could say Mickey Rourke’s leading man is so overpowering that there simply isn’t enough room for Murray to hijack the film with his charisma and downplayed presence. But the real credit here goes to sloppy scriptwriting, which leads to a rare combination of infuriatingly illogical plot twists and totally predictable storyline. The paper-thin characters are just the biproducts of this mess. The film is so cliched and utterly boring that even the pretty cinematography can’t save it. The pace is so unbelievably slow at times that I had to take a nap or go and do the dishes just to keep my sanity and/or concentration. Really. In the middle of a Bill Murray film. And if you’re thinking that sometimes slow can be good, like in, say, Lost in Translation, I wholeheartedly agree. But it’s not that kind of slow. It’s the kind of slow when people in front of you walk slow and you get the urge to slap them in the back of their head and yell “C’mon!” like you’ve seen New Yorkers do on television. The yelling, I mean, not so much the slapping, although maybe that happens as well? But I digress.
Although it might be unfair to compare Passion Play to Lost in Translation, there is one crucial aspect where the former fails miserably in comparison to the latter and there’s just no justification for it. As stated before, the cinematography is beautiful, but, unfortunately, it doesn’t make up for lack of talent, charisma or presence. While Megan Fox certainly looks immaculate with her wings spread and even with wings folded, there just isn’t enough about or in her to make the character stand out like a female lead should and like Scarlett Johansson did in Lost in Translation. More importantly, casting Fox as the female lead is emblematic of the missed opportunities Passion Play is full of. Rourke and Murray are both iconic actors in their own right and their talents are entirely wasted on this film. While Murray manages to make his parts of the film watchable, it is a far cry from the usual enjoyment of watching him even in a supporting role. Having said that, there are a couple of entertaining scenes and Murray moments and I made it through the whole film although it took some doing. Not entirely waste of time then, although pretty close.
What About Bob? (1991) isn’t like any other Bill Murray film. It’s the only Bill Murray film that I’ve ever hated. And more alarmingly, the reason why I hated it so much was Bill Murray’s character in it. This is the film that was responsible for putting me off Bill Murray films for a long time.
So it’s understandable why I was dreading to watch it again. I have only ever watched the whole thing once before and any attempts after that have failed miserably. If the other leading man in a film is Richard Dreyfuss and you end up sympathising with his character, I think it’s safe to say something has gone horribly wrong. Very horribly wrong.
Now that I have actually managed to watch it again, I can see why it infuriated me to the point of hating. The way the Marvin family members apart from Dr. Leo Martin get attached to Bob so quickly is hardly justifiable, even if it is just a plot device where Bob is somehow turned into an alternative father figure and the tables of sane and insane are turned and supposed hilarity ensues. When asked why they like him so much, the answer is that he’s “fun”. So to them he is not actually a psychiatric patient but more like an entertaining family friend that they’ve known for 2 days. Totally makes sense. Everything that Dr. Martin does to get rid of Bob just brings him closer to his family. It is never made quite clear whether Bob really is an obsessive compulsive or if any of his other phobias and behavioural issues are real or imagined. Dr. Martin certainly seems to think that he is more of a manipulative sociopathic narcissist if anything.
But somehow, my hatred for the film has subdued. I no longer dislike Bob as much as I dislike the entire Martin family. And poor plot devices and disregard for credibility. Which is where I suspect my annoyance with the film really came from. And yes, it’s a black /screwball comedy and not everything has to make sense. But Bill Murray is still fantastic and all is as it should be.
Now that the weather is getting warmer and everyone is pining for summer to a nauseating extent, what would be more appropriate for a Murray of the month than ‘Meatballs‘ (1979)? If you went to a summer camp as a child, you’ll probably agree that this is pretty much what it was like, although none of the counselors was ever as cool as Tripper and the comedy was less scripted. While using words like ‘heartwarming’ and ‘good clean fun’ to describe a film would usually make me want to self-harm, Bill Murray saves the day and the film in the process, making this a watchable feel good movie. Never thought that would be possible but it turns out nothing is impossible for Bill. Coincidentally, the film turned Murray into an A-list talent and established him as a solid comedy actor and a leading man.
There is plenty of Murray-esque one-liners, lengthy monologues that seem at least in part improvised and even the supporting cast (because, let’s face it, that’s what everyone else in this film is) grows on you after the second or third watch. Ideal for that Sunday afternoon matinee when too much thinking would hurt your brain and you feel like enjoying a Murray classic.