We’re heading into the fourth week of Christmas. Really. Christmas Day is officially once every December 25, right? Somewhere along the line, someone — very probably someone who owns a shopping mall chain — erased the numeral specific, and turned all of December into Christmas.
Actually, that’s too generous. I started hearing Christmas music in stores on November 1st this year. November 1st! Like the otherwise-relentless Headless Horseman and his aversion to bodies of water, these demons of consumerism haven’t yet found a way to cross the Halloween threshold, but since Thanksgiving doesn’t have much in the way of identifiable tunage, they can stampede right over that one. I know how these corporate coyotes think – people hear Christmas themes and they start buying junk like crazy.
You don’t have to agree, but I’m calling it like it really is. The day after Thanksgiving is a shamefully, even despicably, early time for the major corporations to start pummeling the universe with Christmas songs and broadcasts. The day after Halloween – that’s legitimately criminal. Is it about the religion or the spirit anymore, or is it about selling video-game consoles? Gross. It’d be all worth it if people all got with the holiday-spirit program, but take a ride on the subway. A healthy amount of human beings remain the same miserable, self-serving assholes in December that they are all year round. Again, don’t get me wrong, I like the Christmas season mighty fine, but I have to admit that at just about this time every year, I’m just a little bit looking forward to December 26th.
As long as they slip Bill Murray’s SCROOGED into the programming every once in a while, I know I can make it through another day of getting knocked around by pushy commuters while being bombarded by that god-awful Paul McCartney song. SCROOGED reminds me of what it could and should be about.
People who know what they’re talking about, when it comes to Bill Murray movies, usually point to QUICK CHANGE as the most underrated Bill Murray movie. And they’re right (that‘s a longer talk for another time), but I would also submit this one for consideration.
SCROOGED isn’t as thoroughly hilarious as it might be, mostly because Bill Murray plays it so MEAN for much of the movie (‘course, he is basically playing Ebenezer Scrooge after all), and there are a couple genuinely creepy moments (which I won‘t spoil if you haven‘t seen it yet but of course it’s to do with Christmas Future), well evoked by director Richard Donner, composer Danny Elfman, and cinematographer Michael Chapman, of TAXI DRIVER fame.
But mainly, Bill keeps the funny rolling. No one plays the detached sardonic cynic with secreted reserves of sensitivity better than Bill Murray. He also does a pretty decent Richard Burton impression, which is very random. (Technically, there is a bit of a resemblance.)
Also, the supporting cast is redoubtable. When it comes to the love interest, SCROOGED has got Karen Allen, the coolest lady in all of 1980s cinema. She was the voice of relative sanity in ANIMAL HOUSE, the girl who brought Starman to Earth, and the indisputable greatest girl Indiana Jones ever met, and she’s really lovable in all her scenes with Bill Murray here.
The rest of the ensemble is filled out by weird, memorable cameos — Michael J. Pollard, represent represent-sent — and surprising supporting turns from unexpected places. And best of all, this movie even has room for the eternally badass Robert Mitchum as Bill’s boss. (Which makes sense. He’s gotta be a guy Frank Cross would listen to. How many other actors could fill such a role?)
But moreover, this is a crucial showcase for the greatest working film comedian. I really think that the final segment of the movie, where Bill Murray — greased-down WALL STREET hair wild and scraggly after his Christmas Eve ordeal — makes the case for holiday spirit directly to the camera in a combination of singing and pleading, is one of his all-time best performances. I don’t know how much of it was scripted, but it sure doesn’t feel that way. It looks just like someone genuinely pouring their heart out. Sure, it’s more than a bit corny. But big-time emotional moments like that so often are.
I don’t know about you, but those look like real tears to me. That’s not Hollywood-actor award-reel bullshit. That’s a guy speaking his heart. That fucking moves me.
He was so often misunderstood as strictly sardonic or detached or cynical in his approach, but I would maintain that there has always been at least one passing moment of authentic humanity in any Bill Murray comedy performance, no matter how out-there the surrounding film, whether it be GHOSTBUSTERS (note the way he looks at the statue of the devil dog when he thinks Sigourney Weaver is gone forever), GHOSTBUSTERS II (that brief moment when he addresses the baby with a sentence no baby would understand but every man with a few regrets would: “I should have been your father”), and yes, even in the elephant movie. That’s why more serious-minded indie filmmakers like Wes Anderson, Sofia Coppola, Aaron Schneider, and Jim Jarmusch were able to snap him right up and do wonders with him.
It’s worth noting that SCROOGED was Bill Murray’s first starring role in almost five years. After GHOSTBUSTERS, he released a serious movie, THE RAZOR’S EDGE, a passion project and a notorious bomb (it’s not that bad!). Outside of his terrifically unhinged cameo in 1986’s LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, you wouldn’t have seen Bill Murray in a movie between October of 1984 and November of 1988. Murray made this movie after four years of virtual seclusion from movies, so it obviously meant something to him for this to be his return to cinema screens. When he returned, it was to do a script from Mitch Glazer and Michael O’Donoghue, one a longtime friend and the other the first head writer of Saturday Night Live. I’m not saying the whole thing was a favor, because I wouldn’t know that and it probably wasn’t anyway.
But from the outside, the facts of the matter indicate that Bill Murray is an artist who follows his muse, and it’s interesting for us Bill Murray scholars to note where his muse takes him and when. He disappeared for four years and then he roars back with what is, to date, one of his most ferociously emotional and unreserved onscreen moments. For someone with such a fabled persona of irony and reserve, there doesn’t actually appear to me to be that much irony and reserve between his choices and his performances. What you see feels like what you get, more than anyone else.
And that’s why he’s one of the all-time great film comedians, and certainly why he’s my personal favorite.
SCROOGED is playing tonight and tomorrow night at the IFC Center in New York.
— JON ABRAMS (@jonnyabomb).
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