TV Review: ‘A Very Murray Christmas’

'A Very Murray Christmas' Review: Bill

To call “A Very Murray Christmas” trifling is not necessarily an insult. There are probably quite a few people who’ve wondered what it would be like to spend an evening in a bar with Bill Murray, basking in the actor’s off-kilter sensibilities and listening to him and a few famous friends sing karaoke. True, there is a self-congratulatory air to the entire project, but at scarcely an hour, the special is so slender and slight that it doesn’t outstay its welcome. If the weather outside is frightful (or even if it’s tolerable), there are worse ways to spend a holiday-season hour than with Murray and his glamorous chums.

Viewers old enough to remember Nick, the hilariously jaded lounge singer Murray played in the early days of “Saturday Night Live,” will only see brief flashes of that kind of sarcastic bite in “A Very Murray Christmas.” The project is directed by Sofia Coppola — her brother, Roman, helped out — and on and off screen, there are other familiar names from the Coppola-Murray personal and professional universe: Sofia and Roman’s cousin Jason Schwartzman pops up; Coppola’s husband’s band, Phoenix, makes an appearance; and one of the writers is Mitch Glazer, who penned “Rock the Kasbah,” a recent Murray film. When the special drags a bit, it feels as if Netflix, the anti-Scrooge of this free-spending TV era, has paid Murray and Coppola to film a champagne-infused holiday shindig with their friends. Still, “A Very Murray Christmas” has a sweetness to it that keeps it from lapsing fully into self-indulgence.

At its best, the proceedings keep alive the spirit of the Bob Hope-Bing Crosby road pictures, in which thin reasons were created for personable performers to hang out with each other. The wispy premise here is that Murray is doing a cabaret set in the Carlyle Hotel, a performance that is also supposed to go out as a live TV broadcast. The weather interferes with that plan, but it supplies an excuse for Amy Poehler and Julie White to turn up as stressed-out producers, for Chris Rock and Maya Rudolph to sing a song or two, for Rashida Jones to play a jilted bride, and for singer Jenny Lewis to play a cocktail waitress with an exceptional voice. Murray, in expansive Crosby mode, doesn’t quite have a Hope to riff off, but Paul Shaffer provides adept musical accompaniment throughout, and the star gets to vamp with George Clooney and Miley Cyrus near the end of the hour.

“I’m so alone,” Murray groans at one point, and there are a few faint echoes of the character he played in “Lost in Translation” — another man trapped in a hotel during a period of existential doubt who turns to music for solace. But most of the time, the point of “A Very Murray Christmas” is to act as a delivery system for Murray’s multi-layered goofball charm. The attraction of Murray’s vocal performances, as was the case with the great Hoagy Carmichael, doesn’t have much to do with perfect technique. Rather the actor brings a unique blend of spontaneity, sadness and screwball optimism to his characters, and those qualities infuse his singing with a depth of feeling that bigger and better belters often can’t supply.

But don’t expect this artisanal bon-bon to supply a full meal. “A Very Murray Christmas” is a slender diversion meant to be nibbled while wrapping presents or sampling eggnog — or, perhaps, drinking something stronger.

TV Review: 'A Very Murray Christmas'

(Special; Netflix, Fri. Dec. 4).

Production

Filmed in New York by American Zoetrope, South Beach Prods., Devoted Prods. and Jax Media for Netflix.

Crew

Executive producers, Sofia Coppola, Mitch Glazer, Bill Murray, Roman Coppola, Tony Hernandez, Ted Sarandos, Pauline Fischer, Sarah Bowen; director, Sofia Coppola; associate director, Roman Coppola; writers, Glazer, Murray, Sofia Coppola; director of photography, John Tanzer; production designer, Anne Ross; editor, Sarah Flack; musical director, Paul Shaffer. 56 MIN.

Cast

Bill Murray, George Clooney, Chris Rock, Amy Poehler, Jason Schwartzman, Paul Shaffer, Michael Cera, Rashida Jones, Maya Rudolph, David Johansen, Jenny Lewis, Julie White, Miley Cyrus.

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  1. Mattia Guidarelli says:

    Wow, I really feel like this review to great extent is ignoring all the painfully obvious, selfaware and poorly acted dialogue of this special.
    Not one moment seemed to me as if any of the pople involved wanted to participate in this if not for the paycheck coming their way.
    Seeing this cringeworthy show really made me aware of how much Netflix’s datadriven recipe for their shows can go wrong.
    The selfindulgence and awkwardly put selfawareness of how Bill (The Murricane as they themselves put it) Murray and all his “guests” (especially the extremely awkward Chris Rock scene) really don’t want to do the show within the show, only comes off as the second worst aspect right after how poorly written the dialogue is (which again makes the acting go down the toilet).
    Everybody loves Bill Murray, but nobody likes him when he’s phoning stuff in and is being “forced” to play himself not wanting to play himself.
    I wasn’t even aware that the “Coppola family” was behind this until reading it in this review, but that only makes it worse when thinking how little talent there is shown here by those memebers of that over-privileged family and how the forced ironic tone completely falls flat when (by virtue of how every single, fake christmas special has to end) it all turns out to end well for everyone – simply because it’s christmas, and our writers behind this have no creativity at all except for looking through Netflix viewerstatistics…
    Maybe it’s because I’m not american, so in the end I’m not used to being forced to watch overlykitsch and fake holiday tv-shows each year, but this was just an extremely offputting way of showing an otherwise kind-hearted comedian being funny and lovable.
    Considering the comment from Ann in this thread, imagining it being an Altmanesque experience, it’s sadly everything but that. The Almanesque tone is obviously tried to be achieved, but the lack of capabilities of showing those levels of subtlety that Altman could and in stead heavy handedly hamfisting self-aware metareferences, that only make you want to see the films where those references originally are from, just makes the whole thing unbearable – and that’s just before the final kitsch show within the show, where all the elements which were previously presented in a cynical, ironic way are just sold off as the best thing ever.

    To Netflix and Coppola:
    Sell out or shut up!

  2. stevenkovacs says:

    I loved it! A great kick-off to the Christmas season! Loved his duet with Jenny Lewis; the ‘showstopper’ with Miley Cyrus & George Clooney (singing from behind a tree?!) was great festive fun! The show was too short; hopefully Netflix will make it yearly! Ho!Ho!Ho!❤️🙏🎅🏻🎄🌟🎁🍸🍸🍾

  3. Ann says:

    I don’t know about Bing/Crosby references (though I love those silly adventure films). Just from the trailers, it looks like a small version of a Robert Altman type of piece (lots of celebrity pop ins & casual comedy). Either way, looking forward to it. The holiday season needs this.

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